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Vol. 32 • Fall 2007 


The Issue of Women Cantors: Landmarks Along the Way 5 


Women and the Ancient Synagogue 15 

Hannah Safrai 
Barbara Ostfeld: an Unassuming Pioneer 25 

Bruce Ruben 
Founding the Women Cantors' Network 30 

Deborah Katchko Gray 
My Cantorate 33 

Anita F. Hochman 

Breaking Past Barriers and Looking Ahead 36 

Maria Rosenfeld Barugel 
JTS Approves Women to Be Cantors 38 

Walter Ruby 

The Admission of Women into the Cantors Assembly 40 

Samuel Rosenbaum & Stephen J. Stein 

Women in the Minyan and as Sh'lihot Tsibbur 46 

The Va'ad Halakhah of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel 

A Conservative Woman Cantor Speaks Out 48 

Janet Roth Krupnick 


The Khazntes — The Life Stories of Sophie Kurtzer, Bas Sheva, 

Sheindele the Khaznte, Perele Feig, G oldie Malavsky and 

Fraydele Oysher 51 

Arianne Brown 
Kollshah — An Analysis of the "Khazntes" Phenomenon 80 

Hayley Kobilinsky Poserow 

Kol Hazzanit: Alternatives to the Vocal Requirements and 
Expression of Traditional Hazzanut for Women Cantors 100 

Pamela Kordan Trimble 
Music of the First Jewish Woman Composer 116 

Victor Tunkel 
Ha-Derekh Arukah: The Songs of Naomi Shemer 122 

Sam Weiss 


The Piyyut Craze: Popularization of Mizrahi 

Religious Songs in the Israeli Public Sphere 142 

Galeet Dardashti 
Contemporary Ashkenazic Synagogue Music in Israel: 
Some Aspects of Change in a Relocated Tradition 164 

Amalia Kedem 
Sephardic Influences on the Ashkenazi Liturgy in London 177 

Naomi Cohn Zentner 
Point / Counterpoint: 

1. Until the Final Note 188 

Nira Rousso 

2. Reflections of a Synagogue Chorister 194 

Edward Katz 

A Woman Reborn: Name-Changing Service for Women Traveling 

a New Path in Life 196 

Dorothy Goldberg 


The Choir Loft 202 

Deborah Weisgall 


Marcia Falk's Book of Blessings 212 

Arnold Jacob Wolf 
Selections from Marcia Falk's "Blessings" — in Song, 
performed by Linda Hirschorn and Fran Avni 217 

Kimberly Komrad 

Andrew Bernard's The Sound of Sacred Time : A Basic Music 

Theory Textbook to Teach the Jewish Prayer Modes 218 

Patrice Kaplan 
Abba's Faith — Emunat Abba: The Sacred Chant of 
Abba YosefWeisgal, transcribed and edited by Joseph A. Levine . . . 220 

Sharon Bernstein 

Two DVDs: Great Cantors of the Golden Age and Great Cantors in 

Cinema — a re-mastered edition with seven new selections 222 

Roslyn Barak 

Hans Cohn's Risen from the Ashes: Tales oft ssenger 226 

Deborah J. Togut 

Two CDs of Choral Performances: 

The London Jewish Male Choir's 80 Years (ARC Music, 2006), 

and Sholom Kalib's Jewish Music Heritage Project 

Inaugural season CD (pre-publication edition) 228 

Josee Wolff 


Friday Night Alive — Without Instruments! 232 

Erik Contzius 
An Overview of Music Therapy 232 

Lilly Kaufman 
First European Cantors Convention 233 

Victor Tunkel 
Second Latin American Cantors Convention 234 

Ariel Foigel 
Women's League's Outlook 235 

Marcey Wagner 
Minhah L'-Shabbat 235 

Akiva Zimmermann 

Jewish Views of Disability 236 

Robert and Molly Freedman 


Timeless Recitatives for All Voices and Many Texts-to 
Mark Twenty Years of Conservative Women Cantors 

I Ki Zokheir Kol HaNishkahot - after O vadiah the 

Proselyte (early 12 th century) 237 

II M'heirah YiShama - after Salamone Rossi (1587-1628) 238 

III Ending ofBarukh She-Amar — Abraham Zvi Idelsohn 
(1882-1938) 239 

IV Ot'kha Edrosh - Samuel David (1836-1895) 240 

V AvotL'-Hol- Abba Yosef Weisgal (1885-1981) 241 

VI AdonaiMalakh - Bezalel Odesser (1790-1860) 242 

VII Mi-M'kom'kha - Salomon Sulzer (1804-1890) 243 

VIII Kiddush L'-Shabbat - Rabbi Isaac of Vorke (d. 1858) 244 

IX Kol Adonai - after a Ladino Folk Song (published 1975) 245 

X Melekh Rahaman - using all the Prayer Modes 

(published 1981) 246 

XI TsiddukHaDin - Zavel Kwartin (1974-1953) 247 

XII Vay'khullu - after David Kusevitsky (1911-1985) 248 

XIII Birkhat HaHodesh - after Josef Rosenblatt (1882-1933) 249 

XIV V'-KholMi She-Oskim - after Pierre Pinchik (1900-1977) .... 251 

XV Ya'aleh V'-Yavo for All Occasions - after Pinchos Jassinowsky 
(1886-1954) 252 

XVI Alah Elohim BiTru'ah - Beny Z. Maissner (b. 1944) 254 

XVII Hatsi Kaddish - after Two Sephardic Themes 

(published 1959, 1981) 256 

XVIII R'tsei ViM'nuhateinu - Eliezer Gerovitch (1844-1913) 257 

XIX Ki Hineh KaHomer - Leib Glantz (1898-1964) 258 

XX Responsive Ashrei - after Moshe Ganchoff (1905-1997) 260 

The Issue of Women Cantors: Landmarks Along the Way 

Historian Jonathan Sarna notes that, "like women, music is both alluring 
and dangerous ... demanding careful regulation ... and ultimately defining 
what American Judaism is all about." 1 In a recent book, Professor Sarna 
consistently reiterates to what extent Jewish women in particular benefited 
from the individual freedom afforded by American democracy, beginning 
with their right to sing in synagogue choirs (1818) and to enjoy a view of the 
ritual proceedings unobstructed by a screen (1825). 2 On one early occasion 
they also served as lay cantors for an informal Yom Kippur service (1821). 3 
It wasn't until 1907 that women of the Reform movement were invited to 
become temple members and officeholders. 4 By the 1950s, writes Sarna, "a 
sexual role shift reportedly took place, women replacing men as the dominant 
presence within the synagogue portals." 5 During the same period, Conserva- 
tive women had to content themselves with the privilege of mixed seating, 
while being almost completely excluded from the Bimah. In 1954, however, 
the Rabbinical Assembly Law Committee did accept a minority view that 
allowed women to be called to the Torah. 6 

The celebration of Bat Mitzvah, which had been around since 1922 when 
Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan of the Jewish Theological Seminary faculty officiated 
at the ceremony of his daughter Judith, is what eventually opened the door for 
full female participation in Conservative synagogue ritual. Having sampled 
the wonder of leading prayer, of handling the Torah, of chanting from it and 
then addressing the congregation about what the experience meant to them 
as B'not Mitzvah, Conservative young women saw little justification in their 
being denied the chance to do so as adults. 

The 1960s witnessed a wave of feminist activism on a broad scale, in which 
Jewish women played a disproportionately prominent role. Rabbinic recal- 

1 Jonathan Sarna, "The Question of Music in American Judaism: Reflections at 350 
Years," Keynote address given at the Milken Conference on American Jewish Music 
(New York: Jewish Theological Seminary), the writer's notes, Nov. 7, 2003. 

2 American Judaism — A History (New Haven: Yale University Press), 2004: 47. 

3 Ibid. p. 50. 

4 Ibid. p. 195; in Rabbi Stephen S. Wise's Free Synagogue, New York, NY. 

5 Ibid. p. 286; in Park Forest, IL. 

6 Ibid. pp. 286-287. 

citrance provided one of many "oppressive-male" targets, as Ezrat Nashim 
— the organization of young Conservative women — demanded equal rights 
in all areas of Jewish life, including the rabbinate and cantorate. Their struggle 
took a back seat when Sally Preisand received ordination as the first woman 
Reform rabbi in 1972, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso became the first Reconstruc- 
tionist woman rabbi in 1974, and Barbara Ostfeld was the first woman to be 
invested as a cantor by the Hebrew Union College's School of Sacred Music in 
1975. Over the next quarter-century in the United States, 335 women would 
be ordained as Reform rabbis and 98 women as Reconstructionist rabbis, 
while 130 women would be invested as Reform cantors. 7 

My own survey of contemporary Jewish worship 8 summarized the "View 
from the Right" at that time. 

Orthodox feminists observed these developments as spectators from the 
sidelines, but with great interest nevertheless. Their conclusion: when the 
time came for them to take the liturgical playing field they would have to 
set their own ground rules. Lack of rudimentary Jewish knowledge was 
(and is) anathema to the growing ranks of Orthodox women who have 
completed advanced study programs for select scholars at all-female 
institutes in Jerusalem (MaTan, Midreshet Lindenbaum, She'arim College 
and Nishmat) or New York (Drisha). The degreed women had become 
as halakhically knowledgeable as many male rabbis, and their hard-won 
expertise more than qualified them to arrange and lead a minyan for 
women only. In fact, since the mid-1970s, Orthodox women had been 
worshiping in their own prayer groups for the first time in 700 years. 

Women in the German communities of Worms and Nuremberg were 
conducting their own worship services as late as the thirteenth century, as 
chronicled by Rabbi Leo Landman. 9 

The women conducted services in a separate building. Sometimes these 
sections were adjacent to the male sections and at times connected by a 
gallery. Women with liturgical and musical talents were engaged to lead 
these services. Some of these women-cantors became famous. One was 
named Richenza of Nuremberg, the other, Urania of Worms. The epitaph 
on the tombstone of Urania reads: "This headstone commemorates the 

7 Ibid. p. 341; Nina Salkin, "In A New Voice — How Women Are Changing the 
Cantorate," Reform Judaism, Fall 1995: 29. 

8 Joseph A. Levine. Rise and Be Seated — The Ups and Downs of Jewish Worship 
(Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson), 2001: 214-217. 

9 Leo Landman. The Cantor — An Historic Perspective (New York: Yeshiva Uni- 
versity), 1972: 68; citing Lowy, Jewish Chronicle (London: Dec. 30, 1892), p. 11, transl. 
taken from I. Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages (New York: Meridian), 1958: 

eminent and excellent lady Urania, the daughter of R. Abraham who was 
chief of the synagogue singers. His prayer for his people rose up to glory. 
And as to her, she too, with sweet tunefulness, officiated before the female 
worshipers to whom she sang the hymnal portions. In devout service her 
memory shall be preserved." 
By the late-fourteenth century, whatever minor privileges women formerly 
enjoyed in public worship had been rescinded. The sixteenth-century Gali- 
cian authority Rabbi Moses Mat 10 credits his predecessor Rabbi Jacob Moellin 
(Maharil), head of the Jewish communities in Germany, Austria and Bohemia, 
for this ruling. How ironic, for in ancient Israel, gender attitudes had been 
more liberal! 

Of the 42,360 Jews who returned to Jerusalem from Babylon, almost 250 
were described as male and female singers — "to praise God" — according to 
commentator Ibn Ezra. 11 It is arguable that the synagogue — mikdash meat 
("sanctuary in miniature") 12 — first developed as an institution during the 
Israelite exiles' 70-year sojourn on the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers' shores. 13 
In allowing women to join with men in singing the sacred Songs of Zion 
the exiles were only continuing a tradition begun by King David, who had 
separated all the levitical families according to their particular assignments 
in the House of God. To the fourteen sons and three daughters of Heiman 
ben Yo'el went the task of singing, accompanied by cymbals, harps and Lyres 
(First Chronicles 25: 5-6). Under King Hezekiah, "all the singing men and the 
singing women mention [King] Josiah in their lamentations to this day, ... and 
behold, they are written in the Lamentations" (Second Chronicles 35: 25) . The 
role that women played in synagogues during Greco-Roman times is discussed 
by Hannah Safrai in our opening section, HISTORY, HALAKHAH, AND 

Three millennia later, Orthodox women again have their own Tefillah 
Network 14 that coordinates over 100 local groups worldwide, comprising 

10 Sefer Matei Moshe, Inyanei Milah 4: 5. 

11 On Ezra 2: 65 and Nehemiah 7: 67. 

12 BT Megillah 29a, based on Ezekiel 11: 16. 

13 Louis Isaac Rabinowitz, s.v. "Synagogue — Origins and History," Encyclopedia 
Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter, 1972), 15: 580. 

14 "What Made Women's Prayer Groups Expand," National Post & Opinion, Feb. 
12, 1997; "Reading Torah, Women's Group Tests Judaism," New York Times, Feb. 16, 
1997; "A Turning Point for Jewish Women," Naomi Grossman, Post & Opinion, Mar. 
10, 1999. 

approximately 20,000 regular worshipers. Many of the same women attend 
an annual conference of Orthodox feminists that the network organizes in 
New York. By its second year, 1998, of forty-one sessions on the conference's 
agenda, thirteen — almost a third — devoted themselves to halakhic ques- 
tions involving women and t 'Allah. 

Feminists like Blu Greenberg 15 no longer hold back when attending syna- 
gogue services with their husbands, despite the fact that they are seated sepa- 
rately. Greenberg sees signs of this everywhere; Orthodox women are now 
singing out with full voices, even reciting Kaddish along with the menfolk. 
She predicts an imminent convergence of two recent phenomena, both of 
which are unstoppable by any other means. In her view, the reality of women 
increasingly serving as Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist rabbis, 
and the reality of more and more Orthodox women engaging in higher Jew- 
ish learning, are about to collide. Whether this will result in the ordainment 
of Orthodox women rabbis remains to be seen. 

To keep the halakhic kettle simmering until that transpires, Blu Greenberg 
raises an immediate objection to one aspect of the Orthodox stricture against 
women functioning as cantors for mixed congregations. The ban states that 
any person who does not have a specific religious obligation cannot fulfill 
that obligation for others. 16 Women are thus exempted from positive precepts 
that must be observed at fixed times, like praying three times a day at the 
appointed hours. Thrice-daily prayer is based on the biblical verse (Psalms 
55:18), "evening and morning and afternoon I will pray incessantly," which 
women cannot fulfill because of an overriding obligation to care for their 
children. They are therefore ineligible to lead others in a formal service at 
those — or any other — times. 

Greenberg notes the ambiguity of this position, since both the Talmud 17 and 
Maimonides 18 state categorically, as she puts it: "No set times are given in the 
Torah but rather were formulated subsequently by the rabbis. The . . . original 
commandment cannot be considered time-limited, so women are obligated 
[to pray]." If so, a woman could be allowed an exemption from obligatory 
prayer during her childbearing years, say, until the youngest reaches age 13 
when it is responsible for observing mitzvoth on its own. Then, as one who 

15 Blu Greenberg. On Women and Judaism (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Soci- 
ety), 1981, passim. 

16 BT, Rosh HaShanah 30a; M'nahpt 43a. 

17 BT, Berakhot 20a. 

18 Mishneh Torah 2: Laws of Prayer 1: 1-2. 

is again obligated to pray in a quorum, 19 a woman could enable every other 
person present to fulfill her obligation, either through her participation in the 
minyanor — if she is capable — by her leadership of it as a sh 'li'ah (feminine: 
sh'lihat) tsibbur. 


Amidst this ferment in other movements, reports Jonathan Sarna, "Conserva- 
tive Jewish leaders engaged in an intricate political dance of shifting alliances, 
studies undertaken, commissions formed, hearings held, motions tabled, 
and votes counted." 20 The halakhic ground shifted slightly in 1973 when the 
Law Committee acknowledged women's right to be counted in a minyan, 
and feminists began to don kippot and tallitot. In 1983 the Seminary faculty 
— afraid that their institution would miss an historical boat that was about 
to embark with or without them — voted to admit women to the Rabbinical 
School. Amy Eilberg was first to be ordained, in 1985, and by then the com- 
missioning of Conservative women cantors was only a matter of time. 

As stated earlier, the Reform movement had been commissioning women 
cantors since 1975, and women had actually been functioning as cantors in 
Conservative synagogues over most of that same decade. Elaine Shapiro, 
who had received a Bachelor of Sacred Music from the Cantors Institute at 
JTS but no cantorial ordainment, was the first woman Conservative cantor 
to be appointed, by the 700-family Congregation Temple Beth El of West 
Palm Beach, Florida in 1979. Deborah Katchko Gray studied hazzanut under 
the time-honored apprenticeship system; she accepted a full-time cantorial 
position at Temple Beth El of Norwalk, Connecticut in 1981, as did Anita 
Hochman, a graduate of Gratz College's Cantorial program , at M'kor Shalom 
in Cherry Hill, NJ. Deborah went on to found the Women Cantors Network in 
1982. That same year her WCN co-founder, Jane Myers, accepted the canto- 
rial position at Philadelphia's Germantown Jewish Center. Deborah Marlowe, 
trained as an operatic coloratura soprano, would succeed her. In 1984 Linda 
Shivers graduated from the Cantors Institute with a BSM and was granted 
immediate membership in the Reform movement's American Conference 
of Cantors under a supposedly reciprocal agreement with the Conserva- 
tive Cantors Assembly. However, the CA would not agree to accept women 
graduates of either the Reform Hebrew Union College's School of Sacred 
Music or the Conservative Seminary's Cantor's Institute as members until 
1991. Nancy Abramson was elected full-time cantor at Congregation Sons of 
Israel in Briarcliff Manor, New York, in 1984. Three years later the Seminary 

19 {T'fillah b'-Tsibbur) BT, Megillah 23b. 

20 Sarna, American Judaism, op. cit, p. 341. 

awarded full cantorial status to two women graduates of its Cantors Institute 
— Maria Barugel and Erica Lippitz — who assumed pulpits at B'nai Israel of 
Rumsford and Oheb Shalom of South Orange, both in New Jersey. 

# « # * * * 

The stage was now set for two final pieces of the puzzle to fall into place: of- 
ficial recognition of its women cantorial graduates by the Jewish Theological 
Seminary, and admission of women into the Cantors Assembly. How that 
came about is related in the continuation of our opening section by Samuel 
Rosenbaum and Stephen J. Stein. It is a tale marked by good intentions on 
both sides of the issue. If anything, those in favor preferred to err on the side 
of caution rather than violate a long-held tradition and simultaneously run 
afoul of a Rabbinical Assembly Law Committee that had — in 1974 — vali- 
dated both the pro and con positions concerning whether women may serve as 
shelihei tsibbur. To its everlasting credit — as well as that of JTS Chancellor 
Ismar Schorsch, who applied a 1983 decision concerning the ordainment of 
women rabbis to graduates of the Cantors Institute — the Cantors Assem- 
bly Executive Council voted overwhelmingly to approve the acceptance of 
women members in 1989. 21 Robert Kieval, President of the CA at that time, 
recalls the enormous pressures exerted by proponents on both sides of the 
issue. Halakhic support for the CA's position came almost a decade later in 
a responsum from the Va'ad Halakhah of the Rabbinical Assembly of Israel, 
headed by David Golinkin. In 2001, the 54 th annual Cantors Assembly Con- 
vention for the first time held a session devoted exclusively to the concerns of 
its women members. We're proud to present the remarks of Janet Krupnik, 
who chaired that session. 

By 2005, when Steven Stoehr became president of the Cantors Assembly, 
he realized that most of the students in cantorial schools were female. He 
saw this "as a positive development." 22 Yet, Stoehr acknowledged that "women 
cantors have ... a more difficult time being accepted than women rabbis." They 
have to overcome the sound of a male cantorate whose Golden Age ended 
only with the Second World War, and which still lives on in the folk memory 
of contemporary Jewry. 

To hear the same prayers in the timbre of a woman's voice can be shocking. 

It's not so much an issue of halakhah as it is a psychological and emotional 

21 Cantors Assembly Jubilee Journal, Jack Chomsky & Solomon Mendelson, eds., 
New York, 1998:370-371. 

22 Pauline Dubkin Yearwood, "Local Cantor is National President," Chicago Jewish 
News, June 24, 2005. 


issue, hearing the traditional sounds in a non-traditional way .... It's still 
an evolution in the Conservative movement. 

The thrust of these editorial comments is to recast the whole issue of 
women cantors in terms of their role in American culture generally. Like our 
male colleagues, women members of the Cantors Assembly are considered 
ministers in the broad perspective of American religion, and it might prove 
instructive to compare their progress with that of their female counterparts in 
other denominations. Islam is, of course, out of this picture, but Christianity 
offers interesting parallels in the turf wars that are still being waged between 
senior male and junior female clergy in Protestant churches. That tension 
mirrors the rivalry witnessed in Liberal Temples. Women cantors often find 
themselves caught between the Cyllis of congregants demanding that they 
teach B'nei and B'not Mitzvah to lead Adon Olam to tunes like "Suicide is 
Painless" 23 and the Charybdis of male rabbis censoring every tune they sing 
— almost always with the acquiescence of lay congregational leadership. 

Perhaps the history of early Modern Roman Catholicism has lessons to 
teach us about resolving these tensions, after all, its Reformation preceded 
Judaism's by three centuries. It took Protestantism five centuries after Martin 
Luther to ordain its first female ministers. It took only 163 years for Ameri- 
can Reform to do likewise after Israel Jacobson's 1809 innovations in Kassel, 

And what about the kinder and gentler way in which women ministers and 
rabbis lead worship nowadays? Sunday Mass at St. James Anglican Church, 
Piccadilly, London: "We now rise and walk, hand in hand to the altar, as 
our cantor (also a woman) leads us in singing Psalm 118, 'The Lord is My 
Strength.'" From an opposite perspective, how would Baylor University's "Best 
Preacher" award winner Barbara Taylor measure up against Billy Graham 
in his Evangelical prime? Or how would any of today's rabbinic functionar- 
ies compare to Stephen S. Wise as he fulminated against Nazism in a mass 
rally at Madison Square Garden, New York in 1934? The fact is that neither 
can contemporary male cantors hold a candle to the blazing emotion of a 
Zavel Kwartin or the vocal prowess of a Yossele Rosenblatt. Why should we 
expect our women colleagues to even remotely approximate the fire of a Bas 
Sheva or the fluency of a Goldie Malavsky, whose stories — along with those 
of other Khazntes — are told by Arianne Brown in our opening section: A 

23 Words by Mike Altman, music by Johnny Mandel, 1970; a satiric view of the 
Vietnam conflict. 

The section's four articles give evidence that Conservative Judaism is 
trailing the cantorial curve in this respect, Jewish women have been leading 
Hebrew prayer for a long time. The lives of six Khazntes who flourished in 
the U. S. from the 1930s to the 1970s attest to this. Hayley Kobilinsky Pose- 
row places their careers in historical perspective and Pamela Kordan shows 
how certain passages in the classical cantorial repertoire can be made less 
awkward for the female voice. Victor Tunkel documents the life and music of 
17 th -century composer Leonora Duarte, and Sam Weiss's retrospective and 
appreciation of the late Israeli songwriter Naomi Shemer's lifetime oeuvre 
closes the section. 

THE WORK OF HER HANDS highlights articles written by and about 
Jewish musicians who happen to be women. Galeet Dardashti reveals how the 
burgeoning desire of Israel's Mizrahi community to hear its own traditional 
music has spilled over into the public sphere. Amalia Kedem examines the 
quantitative and qualitative pace of musical change in an Israeli Ashkenazic 
congregation, and Naomi Cohn Zentner gives examples of the influences that 
London's Sephardic tradition has had upon Ashkenazi synagogue music and 
practice. Point / Counterpoint juxtaposes Nira Rousso's first-person account 
of what it's like to sing in a professional Israeli chamber choir — Cameri of 
Tel Aviv — with Edward Katz's reflections on his more than thirty years of 
participation in four synagogue choirs in Montreal. Dorothy Goldberg closes 
the section with an original Name-Changing service written for women who 
have arrived at a crossroads in their life. 

A LITERARY GLIMPSE offers Deborah Weisgall's touching remi- 
niscence of growing up in a 1950s Baltimore neighborhood anchored by 
a Conservative synagogue where her grandfather had been the cantor for 
thirty- five years. 

The REVIEWS section opens with Arnold Jacob Wolf's appraisal of 
Marcia Falk's trailblazing feminist "Siddur," A Book of Blessings. Kimberly 
Komrad reacts to musical settings of excerpts from Falk's work composed 
and performed by Linda Hirschorn and Fran Avni. Patrice Kaplan analyzes 
the approach taken by Andrew Bernard's new book in teaching the prayer 
modes. Sharon Bernstein finds much useful material in the CA's 25 th -An- 
niversary Edition oiEmunat Abba: The Sacred Chant of Abba YosefWeisgal, 
one of its founding members. Roslyn Barak offers a professional opinion on 
what today's practitioners can still learn from Great Cantors of the Golden 
Age and Great Cantors in Cinema, two videos that have just been re-mas- 

tered as DVDs with seven additional sections. Deborah Togut assesses our 
recently retired colleague Hans Cohn's inspiring account of how he rose from 
the ashes of the Shoah to become a "Musical Messenger" in America. Josee 
Wolff compares two anthological CDs of Eastern European synagogue choral 
performances — highlights of the London Jewish Male Choir's 80 Years of 
gala concerts — and the first in a projected series of recordings led by Sholom 
Kalib, based on his monumental study The Musical Tradition of the Eastern 
European Synagogue. 

Our MUSIC section offers a movable feast of recitative templates that can- 
tors can use as benchmarks based on long-standing traditions that still have 
something to say to us today, no matter what voice-type or gender is singing 
them. The twenty selections — one for each of the years that women have 
been officially recognized as Conservative cantors — take as their starting 
points the dual definitions of hazzanic recitative offered by Max Wohlberg 24 
and Adolph Katchko 25 : "inspired additions to paragraph endings;" expressed 
through "combinations of short motifs which fit each individual word sepa- 
rately, and longer singing phrases fitted to a few words." 

At the end of each recitative a short list of alternate texts appears, for which 
the musical templates will work equally well. Through their juxtaposition of 
neume-like motifs and reciting tones, the twenty recitatives spin musical 
midrash that, in the words of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, renew the old and 
sanctify the new. If the selections we have chosen can help every cantor who 
reads this issue to achieve that liturgical renewal of all-too-familiar prayer 
texts, then the myth of a male/ female dichotomy in hazzanic vocal style may 
one day be put to rest. The myth has already been dispelled by our colleagues 
Arlyne Unger and Judith Naimark, who test-drove all twenty recitatives at 
the Journal's request and found them roadworthy 

The Journal staff applauds Ms. Isabel Belarsky for her continuing support. 
We commend her for keeping her father Sidor's name alive through an an- 
nual ad in these pages, just as the Judaica Sound Archives at Florida Atlantic 
University keep the sound of Belarsky 's and other inimitable voices alive for 
anyone who visits their website ( ). 

24 Max Wohlberg, "Some Thoughts on the Hazzanic Recitative," Journal of Synagogue 
Music, Vol. 9, No. 3, November, 1979: 82. 

25 Adolph Katchko, "Changing Conceptions of Hazzanut," Journal of Synagogue 
Music, Vol. 4. Nos. 1-2, April, 1972: 15. 


In this 40 th year since The Journal of Synagogue Music first appeared (Feb- 
ruary 1967), I gratefully acknowledge the six distinguished colleagues who 
preceded me as editor and who did so much to ensure the publication's high 

Charles Davidson (1967-1969); 
Morton Shames (1970-1979); 
Abraham Lubin (1980-1987); 
Jack Chomsky (1988-1993); 
Eric Snyder (1994-1998); and 
Scott Sokol (1999-2003). 

Joseph A. Levine 

(2004- ) 

It should be noted that Charles Davidson 

The Cantor's Voice, from 1959 to 1966, and 

him from 1950 to 1958. 

This year also marked the sudden death 
at age 85 of conductor Siegfried Landau, 
a founding faculty member of the Can- 
tors Institute at JTS. If faculty chair Hugo 
Weisgall, the son of a cantor, favored the 
"Sulzer" approach of synagogue music 
written by a cantor for other cantors, then 
Landau, the son of a rabbi, championed 
the "Lewandowsky" strategy of synagogue 
music written by a composer for cantor and 
choir to support congregational prayer. As 
for his not-to-be-missed Friday morning 
class in Ensemble Singing and Conducting, 
Mr. Landau's one-liners still resonate in 
the collective memory of his former stu- 
dents, perhaps the most devastating being: 
"Gentlemen, that was not an attack; it was 
a heart attack!" 

We mourn his passing as we cherish the 
hazzanic skills and musical knowledge that 
he worked so hard to teach us. 



% ^ 


Siegfried Landau (1921-2007) 
Sketch by Joseph Levine, 19S8. 


by Hannah Safrai 

In ancient times the synagogue (beit ha-knesset or, as it is also called in the 
sources, (beit ha-eidah) constituted a center for the Jewish community. Here 
the Jewish congregation assembled, not only for worship of God but also for 
a wide variety of public activities. 2 This congregation included men, women, 
and children. 

In various contexts, the sources repeatedly mention that the women of the 
community functioned in the synagogue and found their place within it. Ac- 
cording to the Book of Acts, even while the Temple stood, Paul, when he was 
still called Saul of Tarsus, expected to find women among the congregants 
when he anticipated visiting the synagogue in Damascus to uncover those who 
were sinning, erring, and believing in the forbidden new church. 3 Later, as a 
follower of Jesus, Paul visited a synagogue in Salonika (in modern day Greece), 
where he drew the attention of women with his sermons. 4 Important women 
were among the multitude that heard him preach. In all cases, it is clear to the 
author of Acts that it was natural for women to be found in the synagogue. 
The presence of women did not arouse any amazement or surprise. 

Philo of Alexandria (20 b.c.e.- 50 c.e.), in his On the Contemplative Life, 
describes the prayer assemblies of Therapeutae (a sect of Jewish ascetics, 
quite similar to the Dead Sea sect). He tells us that when the group gathered 
in public assembly, both men and women were found together, although they 
were seated separately. Together they sang songs of praise to the Creator of 
the World. Philo delights in the harmony of their singing; he is filled with 
enthusiasm for their devotion. He is not at all surprised that the women of 

1 This article was translated from the original Hebrew. 

2 See S. Safrai, Be-shilhei ha-Bayitha-Sheni U-be-Tekufatha-Mishnah (in Hebrew) 
(Jerusalem: Misrad ha-Hinukh ve-ha-Tarbut: ha-Mahlakah le-Tarbut Toranit), 1981: 
143 ff. 

3 Acts 9: 2. 

4 Acts 17: 1-4. 

the company are seated in the same meeting hall. 5 Elsewhere, in discussing 
the personal status and way of life of the Alexandrian Jewish community, 
Philo states that women must preserve their modesty and avoid appearing 
in public, except when they are on their way to the synagogue. 6 To Philo, as 
well as to the author of Acts, it is clear that women were found in gatherings 
of the community and in the location of these gatherings - the synagogue. 

Often, in the course of rabbinic halakhic discussions, it is made clear that 
women's presence in the synagogue was common. In a city where all the in- 
habitants are priests (kohanim), everyone goes up to bless the congregation, 
"[And] who says Amen' after them? The women and children". 7 Women, as 
well as children, do not mount the platform to give a blessing, but there is 
no doubt that women are found within the synagogue when the priests are 
giving the blessing. This passage assumes there will never be a congregation 
lacking in women and children to answer amen. Tractate Sof'rim assumes 
that both men and women attend the reading of the Torah, observing the 
holy scroll and the written words, and are obliged to say "ve-zot ha-Torah 
("And this is the Torah . . ."). 8 

In the same way, the synagogue is portrayed as a place that a woman can 
visit for a brief time in the course of her daily routine. "A woman puts her 
food pots upon the stove, leaving her non-Jewish servants alone at home, 
until she comes from the bathhouse or the synagogue, and is not concerned." 9 
This means that a woman should not hesitate to leave her non- Jewish woman 
servant in her home for a brief time to go off to the public institutions where 
she normally would go. The rabbis chose the synagogue as one of the obvious 
examples of such an institution. 

Likewise, there are halakhic discussions dealing directly with the attendance 
of women in the synagogue: Is a woman permitted to enter the synagogue 

5 Philo, On the Contemplative Life, p. 32 ff. He emphasizes here that women, just 
like men, also arrive regularly at these gatherings. It is possible that he meant to imply 
that there was something unique about this. It is also possible that nothing surprising 
is implied in this comment. 

6 Philo. On the Special Laws, bk. 3, p. 171. He speaks about the sanctuary (mikdash), 
but we may assume that these words are only a use of Alexandrian terminology, and 
that he intends a reference to the house of worship in Alexandria, the synagogue. 

7 ]TBer., end of chap. 5. 

8 Sof'rim 12: 14. 

9 Av. Zar. 38a-b. 

during her menstrual period?" 10 Is a jealous husband authorized to stop his 
wife from going to the synagogue because of his jealousy?" 11 For our purposes 
here, the answers are not important; rather, what interests us in the reality 
that emerges from the questions themselves - women were accustomed to 
attend the synagogue. 

Having established this fact, we may now inquire in more detail about 
women's place there. Where did women sit? Were women present in the 
synagogue building itself, or was there a separate location for their activities, 
an ezrat nashim 7 . Did the women have defined roles in activities within the 
synagogue? What was their social or religious standing in the synagogue or 
in the organized community of the synagogue? 

In an extensive and convincing article, Samuel Safrai, my father and teacher, 
proved that there is no archaeological evidence from the ancient period, either 
in Israel or the Diaspora, to indicate that there was a special, separate place 
for women in the synagogue. 12 In addition, since none of the literary and 
halakhic sources indicating the presence of women in the synagogue prove 
that women were separated from men, it is highly doubtful that a husband 
would be jealous of his wife if she would be sitting only among women. There 
is room for jealousy, however, if he envisioned her sitting among men and 
did not trust her." 13 

In the synagogue at Phocaea (a Greek settlement on the Aegean Coast of 
Asia Minor), a generous woman, known as Tation, was awarded a golden 
crown and the privilege of sitting in a seat of honor in the synagogue. From 
our archaeological finds we know that, in ancient synagogues, seats of honor 
were to be found in the front of the synagogue iprohedria). This esteemed 
woman could only have been sitting in a congregation where it was possible 
to honor women as well as men, by seating them in a prominent location. 14 
Paul, in his speech to the Corinthian congregation, warns the women not 
to speak up in the community, not even to ask any questions, but to inquire 

10 See S. Safrai, "Was There an Ezrat Nashim in the synagogue of the Ancient Pe- 
riod?" (In Hebrew) Tarbitz 32: 4 (1963): 335. 

11 JT Sot. 1:2. 

12 S. Safrai, "Was There an Ezrat Nashim" 331-33. Cf., more recently, a long and 
penetrating discussion by B. J. Brooten, Women Leaders in the Ancient Synagogue 
(Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press) 1982: 103-138. 

13 See S. Safrai's discussion on this matter in "Was There an Ezrat Nashim" p. 336. 

14 S. Reinach, "Une nouvelle synagogue grecque a Phocee, " Revue des Etudes Juifs 
12, 1986: 236-43. 


of their husbands at home. 15 His statement clearly indicates that women sat 
within the congregation, like their fellow men and husbands. This is the picture 
that emerges from both Jewish and early Christian sources: men and women 
sitting together during activities in the synagogue or community house. 

As we examine the range of synagogue activities in which women partici- 
pated, we must divide our discussion into two separate sections: (1) the erec- 
tion of the building, its physical structure and its administrative management; 
and (2) the worship of God that took place within its walls. 

In her book Women Leaders in the Ancient Synagogue, Bernadette Brooten 
has gathered a wealth of material on the administrative role of women in an- 
cient Jewish and early Christian congregations. From dedicatory inscriptions, 
as well as inscriptions found on tombstones throughout the Jewish Diaspora, 
we know of women who bore official titles related to the institution of the 
synagogue. We also learn about generous women who contributed to the 
building of synagogues. In addition to Tation of Phocaea mentioned above, ar- 
chaeological excavations at the synagogue of Apamea (in what is north of Syria 
today), have uncovered nine inscriptions relating to generous women, five 
inscriptions on the generosity of women mentioned together with men, and 
two additional inscriptions describing donations made in honor of women. 16 
A significant number of other inscriptions demonstrate the involvement of 
wealthy women in the building of synagogues throughout the Jewish world. 17 
There is, then, clear evidence that women felt themselves to be involved and 
responsible participants in this important Jewish institution. 

From all these inscriptions, one can extract an impressive list of honorary 
titles connected to the synagogue that were awarded to women. Three women 
are titled "Head of the Synagogue, 18 two inscriptions mention "leader" (fern. 
Manhigah), 19 and six relate to "venerable women." 20 Two Greek inscriptions 
read "Mother of the Synagogue." 21 It has been widely assumed that these titles 
should not be interpreted as describing the actual participation of women 
in the synagogue but that they were only honorary titles. Brooten however, 
quite justifiably claims that there is no proof that these titles, descriptive of 

15 I Cor. 14: 34-35. 

16 Seen. 12. 

17 SeeBrooten, Women Leaders, 143, and the appendix listing inscriptions of women 
donors, pp. 157-65. 

18 Ibid. 5ff 

19 Ibid. 35 ff. 

20 Ibid. 41 ff. 

21 Ibid. 57 ff. 


positions filled by men, were only honorary when applied to women. We 
are not able to specify exactly what these distinguished women did, but the 
striking evidence before us is of women who were involved and active in these 
communities. If the male holders of these titles were responsible for ongo- 
ing administration of the synagogue; it is reasonable to assume that women 
participated in these responsibilities as well. 

The worship of God in the synagogue service is focused around three areas: 
reading from the Torah (the most ancient of these practices), prayer, and the 
sermon and communal public study. It clearly emerges from our sources that 
women participated as part of the congregation and possibly even took part 
in every one of these areas. 
Torah Reading 

Tannaitic halakhah states; "Everyone is included in the minyan of seven [to 
go up to read the Torah on the Sabbath], even a woman, even a child. 22 In 
the early synagogue, it was customary for the same people who recited the 
blessings to read from the Torah. Essentially, women could have been among 
those reciting the blessings and reading the Torah. 23 However, in the Tosefta 
we find the reservation that prohibits women from reading the Torah for 
the congregation: "One does not call up a woman to read to the multitude." 24 
Whatever the reasoning behind this reservation may be, it seems that, in fact, 
women did not read within the synagogue. The Tosefta continues, and clarifies: 
"[In] a synagogue that only has one person who reads, he stands and reads, 
then sits down, gets up and reads, then sits down . . . even seven times. 25 The 
one capable [male] reader will repeat the blessing and read [for each aliyah], 
but a woman will not be included among those who are called to read. In the 
Babylonian Talmud, we find a baraita that offers a kind of rationale for this 
practice: "But the Sages said, a woman shall not read, because of the honor of 
the congregation." 26 It becomes clear that at first, women were permitted to 
be called up and recite the blessings during the Torah reading, but additional 
considerations served to distance them from this role in the synagogue. 

The term "honor of the congregation" specifically refers to synagogue 
activities, yet its precise meaning is unclear. This phrase appears elsewhere: 
A poheah-a person whose clothing is unkempt and immodest 27 — may not 

22 Tosef.Me.g-. 3: 11 

23 See Safrai, "Was There an EzmtNashim, " 335, and n. 44. 

24 Tosef.Meg.3:ll. 

25 Tosef.Meg.3:ll-12. 

26 BT Meg. 23a. 

27 JTM/C3:7 


read from the Torah because of the honor of the congregation. 28 A prayer 
leader is not permitted to uncover the Torah scroll in public because of the 
honor of the congregation. 29 In the synagogue, it is prohibited to read from 
scrolls of individual books of the Torah rather than from a complete Torah 
scroll because of the honor of the congregation. 30 Regarding the women and 
the poheah, it seems that we are dealing with matters of modesty. There is no 
doubt that the case of uncovering the Torah scroll is more related to burden- 
ing the public with additional time spent in the synagogue, and it seems that 
the prohibition of reading from individual books of the Torah is associated 
with the types of rituals suitable for the synagogue. 

Perhaps an examination of the underlying rationale behind "honor of the 
congregation" in all of these prohibitions can aid our understanding of why it 
is considered improper behavior for women to serve as Torah readers in the 
synagogue. We cannot claim that the prohibition of women reading because of 
a concern for the "honor of the congregation" stems from a halakhic decision 
that women were not permitted to fulfill a public obligation. A discussion 
elsewhere in the Bablonian Talmud rejects the suggestion that a decree of 
Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, prohibiting priests from wearing sandals when 
they bless the people, is based upon the concept of the "honor of the con- 
gregation." Rav Ashi there understands that Rabban Yohanan was concerned 
with the halakhic connotation of such an act disqualifying the priest from 
service rather than any concern for the "honor of the congregation." 31 The 
honor of the congregation, according to this and the above sources, seems to 
have been a social issue, whatever its exact meaning, and not a halakhically 
related item. Therefore, women were distanced from reading the Torah in 
the synagogue because, in the world of the ancient synagogue, having women 
readers seemed undesirable. 32 

28 BT Meg. 24b. 

29 BTMe#.39b. 

30 BT Git. 60a. 

31 BT Sot. 40a. However, the Talmud continues, citing R. Ashi who disagrees with 
the reason, suggesting another. 

32 Judith Hauptman, "Women and the Conservative Synagogue," Daughters of the 
King — Women and the Synagogue, Susan Grossman & Rivka Haut, editors (Philadel- 
phia: The Jewish Publication Society), 1992: 163; "It seems clear that [the Sages] viewed 
women as members of a group generally considered socially or intellectually inferior. 
If women were of equal social status with men, a female reader would not affront the 

nity's dignity." 


In none of our sources have we found that women were obligated in weekly 
or holiday Torah reading. In contrast, women were obligated in the Megil- 
lah reading, 33 and on this subject we learn: "All are obligated in the Megillah 
reading, all are fit [eligible] to read the Megillah. Including whom?" 34 Includ- 
ing women." Women were obligated in the reading and, therefore, were able 
to fulfill this obligation for others, even men. 35 Indeed, here we do not find 
a dependence on the concept of the "honor of the congregation." Theoreti- 
cally, women were able to recite the blessing or read. However, this was not 
acceptable in the social milieu of the ancient world. Only because women 
were specifically obligated to read the Megillah was the prohibition of the 
"honor of the congregation" not used to specifically forbid them from reading 
the Megillah in public. 

What is the relation between obligation and the use of the rationale "honor 
of the congregation"? What should we infer from the different approaches 
reflected in our sources? Is the so-called social perspective more susceptible 
and changeable in the face of other issues? It is appropriate for us to ask: Did 
(or should) the nature of this social prohibition change in the different social 
realities of later periods? 36 

The Mishnah specifically states: "Women, slaves , and minors are exempt 
from reciting the Shema and from [wearing] tefillin and are obligated in 
prayer, in mezuzah, and [in reciting] the Grace after Meals." 37 It is doubtful 
that this mishnah obligated women in public prayer, as it contains only the 
basic obligation to pray and not specifically to join in prayer within a con- 
gregation. Nevertheless, we have already seen that women's presence in the 
early synagogue is beyond dispute. In Philippi (in contemporary Turkey), Paul 
walks from the town to the river, where the Jews are accustomed to meet in 

33 BTMeg.4a. 

34 BT.4tf.3a. 

35 See Rashi, Ibid., s.v., "I'-atuyei map." 

36 Hauptman, Women and the Conservative Synagogue, p. 169f. 

Anyone who reads the Talmud with an open mind soon notices that the rabbis 
of the past frequently found themselves similarly troubled ... by the uni 

ions of halakhah. . . . but with great ingenuity they were able to solve the 
problem. When they sensed that the traditions transmitted to them were ethically 
deficient, they reinterpreted sacred texts in order to implement desired and 
necessary changes. For instance, displeased with the fact that the Torah does 
not allow a kohein to bury his wife — only parents, siblings and children (Lev. 
21: 1-3) — the rabbis interpreted sh'eiro ("relative, flesh") in verse 2 as wife, thus 
stretching these norms to fit their emerging social outlook (BT Yev. 90b). 

37 Mish. Ber. 3: 3. 


prayer. There he meets the women as well as the men. 38 It could be that the 
river was simply a meeting place and not a synagogue, but we may deduce 
that women did indeed participate in public prayer. So too, John Chrysostom 
(b. Antioch c. 347-407 C.E., Patriarch of Constantinople and Church Father) 
testifies that many women were accustomed to go to the synagogue on Rosh 
Hashanah for prayers and the blowing of the shofar as well as on other festival 
days. 39 Indeed, he urges husbands to forbid their wives from attending the 
synagogue or the theater. 

Women were present during sermons and Torah study in the synagogue, 
even though they were not considered to be under the same obligations as 
men to study. 

Commenting on the verse, "You are all standing here today . . . your chil- 
dren, your women . . '.' (my emphasis; Deut. 29: 10), the midrash states: "Even 
if they [the women] do not understand, they come to hear and to receive 
from everything. This teaches that everyone who enters the synagogue and 
hears the words of Torah, even though he may not understand, merits and 
receives four things as a reward . . " 40 According to the midrash, women are 
not erudite in Torah learning but they do come in order to listen and to merit 
the reward of one who frequents the synagogue and the house of study. The 
verse from Deuteronomy does not relate to the synagogue, but the author 
of this midrash views it as an example of synagogue activities. It is clear that 
everyone is present: men, women, and children. This reality seems to the 
expounder to be an outstanding mark of Jewish superiority; in addition, the 
expounder uses what seems to be a well-known homily, 41 which specifically 
indicates that women are not included in the obligation of learning Torah. 

Similarly, we find elsewhere: "Because of this, young Israelite girls cus- 
tomarily came to the synagogues, so that those who bring them would merit 
reward, and so that they themselves would be rewarded." 42 This concept is also 
applied to the biblical verses relating to women's presence at the assembly for 

38 Acts 16: 13. 

39 Adv. Jud. 2: 4-6; 4: 3. 

40 Midrash ha-Gadol on Deuteronomy, ed, S. Fish (Jerusalem: Mosad Rav Kook), 
1972: 639. 

41 BT Hag. 3a; JT Hag. 1: 1; Num. R. 14: 4, and others. 

42 Sof 'rim 18: 6. 

the reading of the Torah once every seven years (Hak-heil) 43 and, to a certain 
extent, also at the giving of the Torah. 44 

According to these sources, women were incapable of study and were not 
obligated to study, but they were encouraged to be present in the house of 
study and the synagogue to listen. Perhaps they were not permitted to ask 
questions in public, but there seems to be no doubt that they were present 
during the time of the sermon. However, we seem to have no evidence of 
women preachers. 

Preaching was not confined to the synagogue. As noted above, Paul went to 
the river outside the city of Philippi. There he encountered a woman named 
Lydia, who sold fine textiles. She listened to Paul speak and was convinced 
by his words. 45 

Sermons were often delivered in the study house, where women were 
also present. Targum Onkeles (second century c.e.) On the verse, "You will 
be praised among the women in the tent" (Judg. 5: 24), states: "You will be 
blessed as one of the women who serve in the study house." The word "ohel" 
tent, is interpreted as the study house, and there sit women who serve as 
students of the Sages: that is to say, women who sit and listen to their words. 
There is a well-known story about a woman who used to listen to the words 
of R. Meir every Sabbath eve, and ultimately aroused the ire of her husband. 46 
This is a story of an independent woman who spent time in the house of 
study without her husband and learned from the scholars, contrary to her 
husband's wishes. 

To summarize, the participation of women in the synagogue is well docu- 
mented in our sources. Women occupied a distinguished position in the 
synagogue and certainly participated in its founding and administration. The 
involvement of women in the building of centers of worship is an ancient tra- 
dition, mentioned in the torah. The responsibility that the daughters of Israel 
had toward the worship of God and the edifice designated God's sanctuary 
goes back to the building of the Sanctuary in the desert. Exodus repeatedly 
makes this point: "Men and women, all whose hearts moved them" (Exod. 35: 
22); "And all the skilled women spun with their own hands" (Ibid. 25); "And 
all the women who excelled in that skill" (Ibid. 26). 

43 Seen. 40. 

44 Mekhilta de-R. Ishmael: Yitro, Masekhtah ba-hpdesh, chap. 2 (ed. Horowitz), 
207. Also, Exod. R. 28: 2. 

45 Acts 16: 12-14 

46 JT Sot. 1: 4; Lev. R. 9: 9; Num. R. 29: 20; Deut. R. 5: 15 


Although there is no evidence that women led prayers, it is clear that women 
were present in the synagogue for the worship of God conducted within its 
walls. The midrash for the section of the Bible about the giving of the Torah 
repeatedly emphasizes that the women stood alongside the men and took 
upon themselves the burden of the Torah and the obligation to observe the 
commandments. 47 Prayer is one of the commandments to which women are 
obligated. Moreover, as recorded in the Babylonian Talmud (Ber. 31a-b), the 
tradition of public prayer proudly reaffirms and emphasizes that the prayer 
of a woman, Hannah, is the model for the order of Jewish prayer. The nine 
blessings in the Rosh Hashana Amidah are ordered after the nine times Han- 
nah mentioned the name of God in her prayer; Hannah originated the term 
Adonai Ts'va ot ("Lord of Hosts") in her prayer; Hannah invented the silent 
prayer; Hannah stood to pray, from which the Amidah prayers derive (amidah 
means "standing"); and Hannah determined the structure of prayers within 
the Amidah, beginning with praise of God, followed by petitions, and ending 
with thanksgiving. Hannah's prayer is a classic example of Jewish worship. 

The actual participation of women in the activities of the ancient synagogue 
and in its prayer service seems to have been interpreted by the social reality 
and the social attitudes acceptable at the time. Thus, we have no hard evidence 
for women serving as Torah readers, prayer leaders, or preachers. Neverthe- 
less, it seems likely that women themselves made an effort to be included 
in the various events going on in the community, that they took part in the 
community's religious life, and that men assumed they were right to do so. 

If applied to today, the role of women in the synagogue of the ancient world, 
as it appears in our literary and archaeological sources, would probably not 
be extensive enough to satisfy the modern woman's yearning for greater 
synagogue participation. Perhaps, though, the example of ancient women's 
involvement can serve as a starting point from which a new path for greater 
involvement can be forged, in a style appropriate to modern generations. 

Dr. Hannah Safrai, Director of the Judith Lieberman Institute for learning for 
women in Ramat Shapira, Jerusalem, lectures and writes on women and Jewish 
tradition. Presently affiliated with the K.T.U.A. in Amsterdam, she is lecturing and 
researching Jewish tradition in Jesus's time. 

This English translation first appeared in Daughters of the King — Women and the 
Synagogue, edited by Susan Grossman and Rivka Haut (Philadelphia: The Jewish 
Publication Society), 1992, and is reprinted here with the publisher's permission. 

Cantor Barbara Ostfeld: an Unassuming Pioneer 
by Bruce Ruben 

In the late 1960s and 1970s a powerful new feminist movement arose, led 
by well-educated, liberal women, many of whom were Jewish. This second 
wave of American feminism (the first got women the vote) would perma- 
nently change the shape of the liberal denominations of American Jewry, 
from Reform to Modern Orthodox. Those Jewish feminists for whom Juda- 
ism was central to their identity began to fight for equality. In 1970 Trude 
Weiss-Rosmarin and Rachel Adler attacked the disabilities under which 
women suffered in Jewish law. That same year Betty Friedan, founder of the 
National Organization for Women, rejected the ancient blessing, recited by 
traditional Jewish men each morning, that thanked God for making them 
men. She retorted: "From this day forward I trust women all over the world 
will be able to say, 'I thank you, Lord, I was created a woman."' 1 

A group called Ezrat Nashim (a play on words that refers to both the 
women's section of a synagogue and the help of women) advocated an end to 
second-class status for Jewish women. They presented a series of demands to 
the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly convention in 1972 that 
urged full equality for women. Jonathan Sarna emphasized the importance 
of this issue in his important historical survey American Judaism: 

The fact that American culture considered the treatment of women to 
be a gauge of modernity heightened the stakes in these debates. Beyond 
their effect on the religious lives of women, the debates also pitted the 
conflicting values of tradition and modernity against one another and 
shaped Judaism's image within the larger American community. 2 

Central to the demands of the Ezrat Nashim was the right of women to 
attend rabbinical and cantorial schools and to function in those capacities in 
synagogues. Though the Conservative movement struggled for over a decade 
to find a halakhic basis for these changes, Reform Judaism quickly embraced 
the new trends. 3 It ordained Sally Jane Priesand as the first American woman 

1 Jonathan Sarna, American Judaism: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press), 
2004: 339ff. 

2 Idem. 

3 See Jack Wertheimer, ed., Tradition Renewed: A History of the Jewish Theologi- 
cal Seminary of America, Vol 2, Beyond the Academy (New York: JTSA), 1997: 485ff. 
for a discussion of the controversy surrounding the ordination of women rabbis. In 
the 1920s there had been an unsuccessful attempt to ordain a female rabbi that was 
ultimately blocked by the Hebrew Union College's Board of Governors. See Sarna, 

n Judaism, p. 340. 


rabbi in 1972, and Barbara Ostfeld as the first American woman cantor three 
years later. This article focuses primarily on Cantor Ostfeld's experience at 
the School of Sacred Music, as the prelude to her successful career. What is 
remarkable is the natural, organic way this revolutionary institutional change 
unfolded, an experience replicated in the careers of other early women can- 

A third-generation Reform Jew, Barbara Ostfeld was raised in Elmhurst, 
Illinois at the Oak Park Temple. At an early age she began singing in Cantor 
Martin Rosen's children's choir. She would admit in an article in the Jerusalem 
Post years later that she had had a crush on him. 4 He gave her many solos 
and she quickly discovered the power inherent in leading a congregation 
in prayer. She even resented when he gave other children solos, though she 
understood he had to be fair. She also had a wonderful musical experience 
at the Union of American Hebrew Congregations camp, Olin-Sang-Ruby, as 
she was exposed to the newer Folk-Rock genre being developed in the camps. 
Barbara unabashedly loved Judaism, and by the age of eight she had decided 
that she would emulate her mentor and become a cantor as well. 

Barbara had grown up in a very liberal, egalitarian family. Her parents 
encouraged her dream, and even after the family moved to Connecticut, she 
held onto it. When she was ready to apply to colleges in 1969, Barbara called 
Cantor Rosen to ask where he had trained. He started laughing and explained 
that the school didn't accept women. Barbara was incredulous. She applied 
anyway, as an undergraduate. In retrospect she realizes that it would have 
probably been smarter to attend college first, because, though the catalogue 
of classes looked like that of most music schools with a good dose of liberal 
arts, in reality it was a professional school to train cantors. When she called 
to get an application, the registrar told her that she had never received such 
a request before. The woman's slightly officious tone rattled Barbara, but the 
woman still agreed to send the materials. In truth, Barbara had never really 
considered the pioneering nature of her plan. Not really a feminist at the 
time, she was merely following through on her childhood dream. Though 
she knew of Sally Priesand, then starting her second year in school, it never 
occurred to her that she herself was a trailblazer. Only years later would she 
realize the religious significance behind her pioneering efforts. 5 

Barbara encountered other challenges. There had been little Hebrew in- 
struction, nor had many children benefitted from B'nai Mitzvah training in 

4 Judy Siegel, "Cantorial Belles," The Jerusalem Post, August 21, 1978, p. 5. 

5 Dave Congren, "Temple's cantor is a pioneer in her field, Buffalo News, March 18, 
1995, page A-6. 

her classical Reform congregation. Like most, she had been confirmed, and 
though she could recite many prayers by heart, Barbara could not read Hebrew. 
At her interview she admitted as much to Cantor Arthur Wolfson, who had 
asked her to read. Instead she recited a number of prayers by rote. She sang 
the pieces she had also been using for other music school auditions, incon- 
gruously including Vergin tutto amor ("Virgin, Full of Love," an 18 th -century 
Italian art song set to an anonymous text by Francesco Durante). When the 
piece was finished she attempted to get out the door, but it wouldn't budge. 
It was a very embarrassing moment. Finally Cantor Wolfson had to help her. 
On the other side the entire student body of Hebrew Union College's rabbini- 
cal and cantorial schools were eavesdropping at the keyhole. 

Barbara told The New York Times that she had been very well received by 
the twenty-two other students in the cantorial program. 6 The administration 
was also supportive. Dr. Alfred Gottschalk, chancellor emeritus of HUC, re- 
calls that there were always women students in the school. Some had elected 
to become soloists. But before the feminist movement brought it to their 
consciousness, investiture had not been an issue. 7 Once Barbara raised the 
question, Dr. Gottschalk recalls that the faculty and administration, with a 
few exceptions, were quite positive. Though some faculty members including 
Eric Werner — a musicologist and one of the founders of the School of Sacred 
Music — straddled the fence, Dean Paul Steinberg was very encouraging. 
According to Dr. Gottschalk, Barbara far exceeded the school standards; not 
only was she musical, but also intelligent and politically aware. 8 

Still, the first year was not easy. Not only was Barbara the first woman, 
she was also by far the youngest student, since everyone else had already 
earned either an undergraduate degree or had more life experience. Some 
were pursuing second careers. Most were also married — she served as 
their babysitter. The biggest problem in that year was loneliness. Not even a 
women's bathroom existed on the floor where her classes took place. The only 
woman in the TTBB choir, she could only "mouth" her part and pray it would 
go unnoticed. Especially memorable in that first year was her maiden Purim 
service. She accepted the challenge of chanting a portion from the Megil- 
lah scroll, not easy for someone who had just taught herself to read Hebrew. 
Never having experienced a Purim service at the school before and coming 
from a staid, Classical Reform background, she was unprepared for the antics 

6 Joan Cook, "A Female Cantor? Two Women Who are Bucking Tradition," New 
York Times, February 22, 1971, p. 20. 

7 Private discussion with the author, July 2006. 

8 Idem. 


that customarily ensued. She chanted the passage where the wicked vizier, 
Haman, literally falls on Queen Esther in the King's presence, pleading for 
his life. At that moment one of the professors, Harry Orlinski, ran up onto 
the bimah, took off his tie, unbuttoned his top button, took off his coat and 
began to pantomime the scene. Barbara, a very serious eighteen-year old, was 
caught by surprise. She felt humiliated, while everyone else screamed with 
laughter. It was with considerable force of will that she kept on chanting. 

Her experience improved by the next year. For one thing, two more women 
(Sheila Cline and Mimi Frishman) entered the cantorial school, along with 
more female rabbinical students. Though some teachers referred to all the 
students as "boys," Barbara encountered no prejudice. She remembers being 
particularly anxious at the beginning of her second year when she walked into 
a class taught by the legendary tradition-minded cantor, Israel Alter. Not sure 
if she would be accepted, she was afraid to sit down. Alter said to her: "Nu, 
in my class all the students sit down." He consistently showed her respect. 

Barbara loved both the school and her studies. She came early and left 
late. She attended Tenllah every day along with another regular attendee, Dr. 
Eugene Borowitz, professor of Education and Jewish Religious Thought. It was 
a great time to be at the Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion; 
her lasting impression is that the place was supercharged. Among the rab- 
binical students active in student government were future leaders Eric Yoffe 
and David Saperstein (currently President of the Union for Reform Judaism 
and Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, respectively). 
The school was politically engaged and she was very proud to be there. Active 
in student government as well, she fought hard to get more text study in the 
cantorial curriculum as well as more shared classes with rabbinical students. 
She eventually served as student president of the School of Sacred Music. 

On June 8, 1975, Barbara became the first invested American woman 
cantor. The New York Times, which had been following her progress at the 
school, announced: "First Woman Cantor, An Alto, Invested Here." 9 There 
were television cameras at Temple Emanu-El that day as well, as President 
Gottschalk joyfully placed his hands on her head on the top step of the huge 
bimah. He put the moment in perspective, citing Reform Judaism's com- 
mitment to giving women equality. He noted: "women served as presidents 
of Reform congregations and on temple boards, and are an integral part of 
our Reform Jewish institutional life." 10 Footage of the historical moment was 

9 Irving Spiegel, "First Woman Cantor, an Alto, Invested" New York Times, June 9, 
1975, p. 65. 

10 Idem. 

shown on the local TV news in New York. As unassuming as Barbara had 
been through her years of school, she now admits that all the interviewing 
and media attention was "very cool" while it lasted. 

It is one thing to obtain the credentials of Cantor; it is quite another to 
find employment in the field. Would congregations accept women cantors? 
Would there be a glass ceiling, as there was in other professions? Barbara's 
placement experience was always a positive one. The first year out of school, 
there were no jobs available so she stayed on at her student pulpit at Beth 
Sholom Temple in Clifton-Passaic, New Jersey. The next year she landed a 
big position at Temple Beth El of Great Neck, New York. She said that from 
the beginning, the chemistry was right. The temple even allowed her to bring 
her eighteen-month-old daughter to the office when necessary. In 1988 Bar- 
bara left Long Island to serve as cantor at Temple B'rith Kodesh in Rochester 
and then in 1990 at Temple Beth Am in Buffalo, New York. Further, her 
professional organization, the American Conference of Cantors, was always 
openly helpful. According to Ramon Gilbert, president of the Conference 
and an instructor at the School of Sacred Music: "Male cantors greeted the 
newcomers without a tinge of 'male chauvinism.'" 11 

Given that the School of Sacred Music, the synagogues, and the Conference 
have been so open to women cantors, it is not surprising that their numbers 
have multiplied dramatically. In the years 1975 to 1995 one third of the 108 
cantors invested by the school were women. 12 The large majority of every can- 
torial class today consists of women, and they now serve in many of the most 
prestigious Reform congregations in the country. Women have also served 
with regular frequency as presidents and officers of the American Conference 
of Cantors — Ostfeld herself now serves as director of placement. 

This quiet revolution, begun by one unassuming young woman, has trans- 
formed the field. 

Bruce Ruben is the newly appointed director of the School of Sacred Music. He 
received a Master's degree in Religious Studies at Indiana University, a diploma 
ofHazzan at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and a doctorate in Jewish History 
at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. As an active cantor he 
served Temple Shaaray Tefila in Manhattan for twenty -four years. This article is 
based on a lengthy interview he held with Barbara Ostfeld in July of 2006. 

11 Judy Siegel, "Cantorial Belles," The Jerusalem Post, August 21, 1978, p. 5. 

12 Nina Salkin, Reform Judaism, Fall, 1995, p. 29. 

Founding the Women Cantors' Network 

by Deborah Katchko Gray 

Having grown up in a cantorial family, I was used to hearing the sounds and 
issues surrounding the cantorate. My father, son of the legendary Adolph 
Katchko (1886-1958), was a wonderful part-time cantor in his own right, with 
a full-time liquor store — he used to say he dealt in spirits. Fortunately, he 
sang and never drank. Unfortunately, his store was never successful because 
he had no passion for what was in it. His passion was for the bimah where 
he chanted his father's magnificent music, especially for Hashkiveinu when 
he would be transformed in my eyes into a musical prophet. 

My mother was his accompanist for many years, and then helped run the 
store so he could go off to his Friday evening pulpit. I would go along with 
my father most Friday nights, the two of us often singing together all the way 
to his synagogue — and these are among my fondest memories. My mother, 
who later became my accompanist, had always been both soul mate and best 
friend. Now, as a mother myself, I realize that the musical experiences that 
both of my parents had shared with me were unusual and precious. 

As a young college student I sang in pulpits every weekend, and led the 
Boston University Hillel's Conservative High Holy Day services for over 2,000 
people. I knew then that this is what I wanted to do. I didn't think it was pos- 
sible since I had no female role models. But davening was in my blood, so I 
decided that hazzanut must have been transmitted to me while growing up, 
without my being aware of it. 

The following Spring my father took me to a Cantors Assembly conven- 
tion. He had attended the School of Sacred Music in its early days but did not 
graduate. There was too much pressure on him just because he was Katchko's 
son. He loved to sing but didn't enjoy synagogue politics, nor did he have the 
ego necessary to survive in such an atmosphere. Now at the convention, my 
father was proudly introducing me to some of his former classmates. 

I will never forget their comments when he told a few of his colleagues that 
I was singing as a cantor in the Boston area. 

"Oh, what will come next — topless on the bimah?" 
"What else will they think of to fill the pews!" 

I was embarrassed and shocked, and held my father's hand tighter. It would 
take twenty-five years before I became a full member of the Cantors As- 

The insecurity and resentment I experienced at that convention with my 
father led me to feel alienated from the professional cantorate during my 
college years. I loved singing in Conservative pulpits, and didn't want to be 
part of the Reform movement. As an undergraduate I had visited the Hebrew 
Union College in New York, thinking about its cantorial school. But I was 
turned off by what I perceived as a certain elitistism and high-clergy coldness 
that was alien to my hazzanic roots. (Had Jackie Mendelson been teaching 
there at the time I would have felt differently!) 

My studies with Professor Elie Wiesel in college had left a lasting impression 
on me. He taught that being Jewish was a miracle — a heritage that has become 
ever more precious because we are entrusted with it after a Holocaust that 
wiped out a third of all the world's Jews. If each of us were to take on the soul 
of one of the six million who were martyred and thereby live a doubly Jewish 
life, our lives would take on more meaning. We would be lighting Shabbat 
candles not just for ourselves, but for a soul who was prevented from doing 
so. I have taken that suggestion to heart ever since. I will always be grateful 
to Professor Wiesel for this insight and his passion for all things Jewish. It 
has given a purpose and drive to my Jewish existence. 

In 1980 after hearing that a position was open in Norwalk, Connecticut, I 
asked the congregation's rabbi, Jonas Goldberg, if he would audition a woman 
cantor. He said, "We've listened to eighteen men; at this point we would au- 
dition a monkey!" After my previous humiliation at the Cantors Assembly 
convention I was delighted to be chosen by the Norwalk committee over all 
the other candidates. Of course, it was not so much the Cantors Assembly, 
as insensitive remarks from a few insecure male cantors — but it had stung 
none the less. 

The taunts continued even after my position in Norwalk was secured 

— from a different quarter. The one Reform rabbi in town asked my rabbi, 
"What's next? Getting rid of the talleisim?" I looked around the area and real- 
ized there were no colleagues to work with or to ask a question. The following 
May (1981) I went again to a Cantors Assembly convention — this time alone 

— and sat with a whole table of women! One of them, Elaine Shapiro, was 
already functioning as the first full-time Conservative woman cantor, in West 
Palm Beach, Florida — without official investiture. We agreed to get together 


during that convention with other women in the same situation and see if we 
could organize ourselves into a support group. A dozen of us met the next day, 
some studying hazzanut privately — since the Jewish Theological Seminary 
was not granting a cantorial degree to women who had completed the full 
course of study at its College of Jewish Music — the same curriculum that 
was earning religious accreditation for its male cantorial graduates. 

I invited everyone to my temple for a gathering. I put ads in Moment, The 
Jewish Week and other publications. In May of 1982 twelve women from all 
over came to Norwalk for our first meeting. We decided to call ourselves the 
Women Cantors' Network. I am enormously proud that our organization has 
grown to over 250 members. Still, I feel that even though the status of women 
has changed in the Reform and Conservative cantorate, there will always be 
a need for the WCN. We offer something very nurturing and caring that is 
not out there. We don't discriminate based on education, job experience, 
pulpit size, salary, ordination, certification or degrees. Because women were 
left out for so long in so many ways, we do not even discriminate based on 
gender! Being nurturing, caring, musical, spiritual and loving is not a female 
virtue alone. 

It is therefore my prayer that our conferences keep on attracting cantors 
and hopeful cantors, writers, musicians, choir directors and rabbis — men as 
well as women — whose spirit is moved by our people's sacred music. Each 
one who attends brings a sense of beauty and kindness, an open heart and 
soul to share, and sometimes even a shoulder to cry on. I sincerely hope that 
the Women Cantors' Network can continue to be a beacon of light and hope, 
song and story, love and laughter for all of us. 

Deborah Katchko Gray serves as hazzan at Reform Temple Shearith Israel of Ridge- 
field, Connecticut, and prides herself on working with a rabbi who "appreciates, 
enhances and elevates worship and constantly tells the congregation how lucky they 
are to receive beautiful and moving Jewish music on a weekly basis" 

My Cantorate 
By Anita F. Hochman 

I knew I wanted to be a cantor from the time I attended junior high school. 
At the age of fourteen I had already reached several significant conclusions. 
I loved being Jewish. Music was central to my young being. My synagogue, 
Temple Shalom in Levittown, PA, was my second home. Everything felt right 
when I was there. And I was happiest singing Jewish music. 

To me, this all added up quite tidily. I will be a cantor. Future decided. 

That was in 1971. It didn't even occur to me that women cantors were an 
anomaly. Why did I even think this was an option for me? I certainly didn't 
know any women cantors. In fact, at fourteen I suspect I knew of only one. 
David Wisnia. My cantor. To this very moment in time I can hear his haunt- 
ing KolNidre and his R'tsei that held me spellbound in a way I thought was 
other-worldly (even if I didn't yet know what that meant). But somehow I 
knew I didn't want to be a cantor like Cantor Wisnia. Still he remains for me 
today a deeply, powerfully moving inspiration. Was he a role model? I can- 
not say for sure. Just as I cannot say why, as a female 36 years ago, I thought 
I could (and was determined to) see myself as a cantor. 

In just a few years time, leading songs at youth group and then camp would 
lead to my moniker: song leader. Every song from Debbie Friedman's Sing 
Unto God recording (vinyl!) was in my fingers and on my voice. My friend 
and song-leading partner, (now cantor) Leon Sher, and I would spend hours 
and hours together learning every chord, every note by ear and then by heart. 
We thirsted for this stuff. And little did we know that we were drinking in 
the first momentous drops of a tidal wave of Jewish music for worship and 

All through my song-leading years I remained resolute in my desire to be 
a cantor, still with no women that I knew of to look to as examples. I created 
my own path back in the 70s. With song leading as my lifeline, and intensive 
study with remarkable teachers, I made my way through relatively uncharted 
territory. Twenty-five years ago at the age of 24 I auditioned for the job of 
full-time cantor at M'kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ. I actually thought I was 
not quite ready for it at the time. But fortunately, the leadership saw the po- 
tential for growth in me that I was still incapable of seeing. And they wanted 
a cantor who could play guitar. Today it's not uncommon for a congregation 
to intentionally search for a candidate who plays guitar. In 1981 it was. But 
in 1981 it was also uncommon to find a congregation that was interested in 


hiring a woman. So I went to work for this uncommon congregation. It was 
a place that preferred to think "outside the box" long before the phrase itself 
was coined. A maverick congregation in an area where the Jewish popula- 
tion was growing steadily hired this young woman who was determined to 
be more than an anomaly. 

I continued to study. I was enrolled in what was then a fledgling graduate 
program at Gratz College in Philadelphia. With openhearted guides such as 
Shalom Altman (z"l), Dr. Irving Cohen (z"l), Hazzan Max Wohlberg (z"l), 
Hazzan Charles Davidson and Hazzan Dr. Saul P. Wachs, I immersed myself 
in modes, nusah, cantillation, liturgy and history. And, having grown up in 
a classical Reform congregation, for the first time in my life I learned what it 
means to daven. I explored various minyanim in and around my community. 
With my hard-earned confidence I proudly found myself davening comfort- 
ably with a traditional siddur in my hands, the appropriate nusah flowing 
from my lips, and my body moving comfortably through the time-honored 
choreography of many a traditional service. 

But on Friday afternoon, the approach of Shabbat brought me home to 
what had always been most familiar; sitting quietly, tuning my guitar, singing 
a familiar or new tune that I would be teaching my congregation that evening. 
Only now it was as a cantor, not a songleader. 

Within my first few years of serving M'kor Shalom I walked that challenging 
tightrope of singing what was most familiar to the congregation, yet find- 
ing a small opening for change and even musical correction to the parts of 
the service where nusah could find its rightful place. For instance, teachable 
moments within the service itself gave me the opportunity to explain that 
Ve-ahavta offers us its own implied means for chanting. For the first time the 
ta'amei ha-Mikra finally became the vehicle for our song. Our M'kor Shalom 
services have always reflected the blend of traditional and contemporary 
within the framework of our Reform awareness of making informed and edu- 
cated choices. We may have been somewhat ahead of the curve 25 years ago. 
Services like ours were experienced at other congregations on the occasional 
Shabbat reserved for a youth group's "creative" service. But my congregation 
had fashioned its own prayerbook, eschewing both Union Prayer Book and 
Gates of Prayer in favor of their own expansive and innovative text; affording 
us the option for creativity each and every Shabbat. 

I took great pride during the early stages of my career (and still do, in fact) 
in being associated with this unconventional synagogue. The congregation 
itself became quickly identified as "that synagogue with the guitar-playing 

female cantor." To some this was a dubious distinction, to be sure. But more 
often it signified an identification not only apt, but celebrated. And it distin- 
guished M'kor Shalom (as did a number of our other unique characteristics) 
as rare and intriguing. 

What also set us apart at first was our participatory style of worship. My 
well-honed songleading skills have always served me well. And I'm quite aware 
that it's those skills that made me the choice of an exhaustive cantorial search 
over 25 years ago. To this very day one of my greatest weekly joys comes in 
leading our Shabbat morning Junior Congregation service with our fifth and 
sixth graders. In many respects the sanctuary also becomes a classroom. We 
study the liturgy, explore the choreography of worship, engage in Torah, and 
we sing. We sing and clap ourselves awake each Saturday morning, a little 
groggy and timid at first. But by Mi Khamokha we're swirling in a round 
oishevahj even competing by grade to discover who can offer praises with 
more enthusiasm. And by the end of Adon Olam the kids have concluded a 
pep rally for God that is its own model for what really matters (in my mind) 
in joyful prayer. 

I am most fulfilled professionally when I know I am enabling and empow- 
ering adults and children to celebrate Judaism and reach for the Divine with 
their own voices, their own hands and their own hearts. This is my cantorate. 
This is my calling. 

Recently, with the loss of a dear friend's father, I had occasion to hear my 
"own" cantor, David Wisnia, recite Eil Malei Rahamim. 

It had been many, many years since I had seen or heard this extraordinary 
icon of my youth. With his very first notes and the cry from his East Euro- 
pean neshomeh, I was immediately reduced to an emotional puddle. Sobbing 
welled up from within me as soon as I heard him begin. As often as music 
has brought me to tears and touched places within me that were as deep as I 
thought possible, hearing this man's voice accessed a part of me that I didn't 
even know was there. I honestly don't have words to express how powerful 
that experience was. But in attempting to explain "my cantorate" for this 
celebratory issue of the Journal I have come to understand whence the call. 

Editor's Note: Cantor Hochman is too modest. I witnessed what she terms a "Ju- 
nior Congregation service with our fifth and sixth graders" one Shabbat morning 
seventeen years ago while shul-hopping (an editor's prerogative) during my year 
of mourning for my Dad. The only way I can describe what she did with those 200 
unruly youngsters, their indifferent teachers and us half-dozen gawking Kaddish 
zogers was: "Group Magic" 


Breaking Past Barriers and Looking Ahead 

by Maria Rosenfeld Barugel 

My path to the Cantorate was a circuitous one, winding from foreign-lan- 
guage teaching to international banking and finally to Cantorial School. My 
goal was to combine teaching with languages with the desire to study Jewish 
music in a formalized manner. 

When I first entered the Jewish Theological Seminary, although women 
were taking the same fourteen courses a semester in Music and Judaica as men, 
they were eligible only for the Bachelor of Sacred Music degree and not the 
diploma of Hazzan. While men were students in both the Cantors Institute 
and the Seminary College of Jewish Music, women were students only in the 
latter. The women worked very hard during the course of four years (now it is 
a five year program and students must go to Israel in the first year) to prove 
that we were just as — or more — competent than the men. 

We women began petitioning Chancellor Gerson Cohen in 1986 soon 
after Amy Eilberg, the first Conservative woman Rabbi, was ordained. A 
legal responsum by Rabbi Joel Roth served as the basis for our petition. It 
stated that women who accept the full obligations of the time-bound positive 
commandments like praying three times a day, putting on Tallit and Tefillin, 
hearing the Shofar blasts and the Megillah reading, shaking the Lulav, etc. 

— obligations which traditionally fell only upon men - are eligible to represent 
others in communal prayer. This acceptance of time-bound religious obliga- 
tions is called hiyyuv, and Rabbi Roth's responsum on it did not immediately 
extend to women cantors. 

After Chancellor Cohen's untimely death towards the end of my third year 
in cantorial school, we circulated petitions signed by our male cantorial and 
rabbinic colleagues. One rabbi, Rabbi Bradley Artson Shavit, was particularly 

In the beginning of my fourth year we met with the new chancellor, Ismar 
Schorsch. We argued that our not being granted the diploma of Hazzan — in 
the face of the Roth responsum and our assumption of hiyyuv obligations 

— was a "schizophrenic policy." Why shouldn't the same ruling on leading 
public prayer apply to women cantorial students as well as women rabbini- 
cal students, especially since we were being trained to perform that specific 
religious function? Chancellor Schorsch agreed, and in February 1987 we 
received word that my classmate Erica Lippitz and I would be the first two 
women to receive the diploma of Hazzan. 


In May of 1990 several colleagues and I co-founded the Cantors Institute 
Alumni Association (CIAA) in reaction to the Cantors Assembly vote earlier 
that month to reject women members. I believe that the formation of our 
Alumni Association was crucial in the Assembly's coming to terms with 
this issue. On August 30th the Executive Council of the Cantors Assembly 
effectively overrode the general membership's extremely close vote by over- 
whelmingly passing a resolution (29-1) "admitting qualified women Cantors 
as full-fledged members of our organization." 

At the 1991 convention in Los Angeles, fourteen women were voted in by 
the entire membership. Included in that group were Cantors Elaine Shapiro 
and Linda Shivers who had graduated from the Seminary College of Jewish 
Music before Rikki Lippitz and myself. All of us broke into a chorus of "Si- 
man Tov u-Mazal Tov" and tears of joy accompanied our singing as we finally 
claimed our rightful place in the folds of our professional organization. 

I suppose that we who were among the first women graduates of the Canto- 
rial School at the Jewish Theological Seminary have became the role models 
for those who followed us. I know for a fact that I have been a role model to 
my young Bat Mitzvah students — and perhaps beyond. My own son said 
to me a few years ago: "But Mom, I thought only women were Cantors." His 
best friend's mom is also a Cantor. 

After working as a professional cantor for two decades, I would like to 
propose that the Cantors Assembly fund a recording of its women members 
in honor of the 20 th year of their official investiture as cantors. 

Maria Rosenfeld Barugel is just entering her twenty-first year as hazzan at Con- 
gregation B'nai Israel of Rumson, New Jersey. She would like to acknowledge her 
early mentors Rabbi Jeremiah Wohlberg and Cantor Jonah Binder, as well as her 
professional colleagues Cantor Faith Steinsnyder, Rabbi Jack Rosoff and Dr. Barbara 
Rosoff, who continue to inspire her work as a cantor and educator. 

JTS Approves Women to Be Cantors 

by Walter Ruby 

Dr. Ismar Schorsch, chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, announced 
yesterday that JTS will henceforth award full cantorial status to women gradu- 
ates of The Cantors Institute. Scheduled to complete the Cantors Institute 
program at the end of this academic year are Maria Barugel and Erica Lippitz. 
They will be awarded the diploma of hazzan at JTS graduation ceremonies in 
May. Until now, women who completed the five-year program at the Institute 
were eligible only to receive an academic degree of Bachelor of Sacred Music, 
while male graduates were eligible to receive both the academic degree and 
the hazzan's diploma. 

The long-awaited decision by JTS, to ordain women as cantors, is likely 
to mark a major controversy within the Conservative movement, which is 
still sorely divided by its 1983 decision to ordain women rabbis, and the 
subsequent decision by the Rabbinical Assembly to accept women as con- 
gregational rabbis. 

Rabbi Ronald Price, executive director of the Union for Traditional Conser- 
vative Judaism, warned last November, "For the Seminary to ordain women 
as cantors would be a serious mistake as well as a more serious violation of 
Jewish law than ordaining women as rabbis. From a halakhic perspective, 
leading the prayer service is more crucial than teaching." 

However, according to Schorsch, "This decision is really a continuation of 
the decision taken in 1983 [to ordain women rabbis]. What I have done now 
is merely to apply the decision of 1983 to the Cantors' Institute." Schorsch 
explained that both decisions were based on a responsum from the early 
1970s by Conservative halakhist, Rabbi Joel Roth, providing halakhic ac- 
ceptance for women who voluntarily take on the time-honored obligations 
of traditional Judaism, such as the wearing of tallit and tefillin and going to 
three minyanim each day. 

Schorsch argued, "On the basis of the responsum by Professor Roth, there 
is no difference [between ordaining women as rabbis and as cantors]. It is 
really a problem of responsibility commensurate with obligation." Schorsch 
acknowledged that both decisions are "major departures from previous prac- 
tice," but contended that "the role of women in religious life in Judaism has 
been an issue for 200 years. The opening of positions of religious leadership 
is merely the completion of a process of equalization that began some 200 
years ago with emancipation." 

Schorsch said he believed JTS ought to have decided to ordain women as 
cantors at the time it allowed women to be ordained as rabbis. "This decision 
is part of what we should have done in 1983," he said. "No one was served well 
by ignoring the fact that we didn't complete the process in 1983." He said that 
"a major impediment was resolved" when a delegation of cantorial students, 
both male and female, met with him at the beginning of this academic year 
to urge acceptance of women as cantors. 

According to Schorsch, the female cantorial students made clear at that 
meeting that "they had no problem complying with the requirements of the 
Roth teshuvah (responsum) to begin with." Schorsch said that in the inter- 
vening month, he has held extensive consultations with members of the JTS 
faculty and leaders of the broader Conservative movement. 

Schorsch said he planned to meet with the leadership of the Union for 
Traditional Conservative Judaism this week to discuss the decision. He 
acknowledged, "I don't have any illusions on being able to persuade [the 
UTCJ], but it is my contention that this decision is a halakhic one based on 
a balanced halakhic teshuvah. People may disagree with the bottom line of 
this teshuvah, but in the course of Jewish history very few responsa have ever 
instantaneously won the unanimous approval of the Jewish people." 

Schorsch emphasized, "I think there is broad support in the Conservative 
movement [for the ordination of women cantors] . There is plenty of room for 
disagreement and diversity within the Conservative movement, but I think 
we are moving in the direction of the popular will within the movement." 

This article first appeared in the Jewish Exponent, February 6, 1987, and is reprinted 
here with the editor's permission. 

The Admission of Women into the Cantors Assembly 

by Samuel Rosenbaum and Stephen J. Stein 

In May 1987, Maria Barugel and Erica Lippitz became the first women to 
graduate from the Jewish Theological Seminary with the diploma of hazzan. 
An announcement of the Seminary's decision had been made several months 
earlier by the Chancellor. 

The question of women as shlihei tsibbur was first raised within the As- 
sembly in the late 1970s when it was reported that a few Conservative con- 
gregations had engaged women to serve as their cantors. It was during this 
time that Dr. Gerson Cohen, then chancellor of the Seminary, appointed a 
commission to study the question of ordination of women as rabbis. Since, 
at that point, this commission had yet to render a decision regarding women 
as rabbinical students, the Cantors Assembly decided that it was premature 
to take a public position on women in the cantorate. 

In 1980, concern was expressed by colleagues on the West Coast about 
the proliferation of inadequately trained men and women who were being 
called to serve as cantors in Conservative as well as Reform congregations. 
The question arose as to whether it was ethically proper for a member of the 
Assembly to prepare women for such a career. Although the Conservative 
movement had not yet paved the way for women to serve as shlihei tsibbur, 
it was the general feeling that our by-laws made no restriction against such 
instruction. The Executive Council urged those who chose to teach both men 
and women, to see to it that all be trained in a manner that enabled them to 
serve properly. 

In the spring of 1981, discussion pertaining to women in the cantorate inten- 
sified as speculation increased that the Seminary would soon ordain women 
as rabbis. It was clear that the issue, for our membership, was a sensitive one 
and that feelings on both sides of the question were strong. Jack Chomsky, 
then a student at the Cantors Institute, was asked to poll the membership of 
the Cantors Assembly. His survey found, at that point in our history, that the 
membership was split right down the middle, with a slight edge in favor of 
conferring equal status of women. Most of those who opposed the ordina- 
tion of women as cantors, however, saw the trend as inevitable. What Haz- 
zan Chomsky also discovered was that, for the first time in the history of the 
Cantors Assembly, an issue that was both halakhic and political threatened 
the unity of the organization. 

At the Executive Council meeting of September 1, 1981, Hazzan Max 
Wohlberg presented a comprehensive report dealing with both sides of the 
question. By the end of his presentation, it was evident that almost all of 
those present felt that the inclusion of women in the Cantorate was sure to 
occur, sooner or later. It was also the consensus that, halakhically speaking, 
there was no serious hindrance that could not be overcome much in the 
way that halakhah over the centuries had circumvented those laws which 
were either impossible to perform or which the people, for reasons valid at 
the time, would not or could not obey. Nevertheless, there was unanimous 
agreement that since there had not yet been any serious discussion in the 
Rabbinical Assembly or at the Seminary about permitting women to serve 
as cantors, it would be prudent for the Assembly to hold off any pronounce- 
ments on the subject. 

With the faculty of the Jewish Theological Seminary voting on October 23, 
1983 to accept women as rabbinical students, the question of women in the 
cantorate again became the focus of discussion in the Cantors Assembly. The 
Seminary, however, still was unprepared to consider the question of women as 
shlihei tsibbur. The consensus of the Assembly therefore remained that until 
such time as the Seminary dealt with the issue, the Assembly had no choice 
but to maintain the status quo. To open membership to women at that point, 
would have put the CA at odds with the Seminary. 

In the fall of 1984 The Jewish Theological Seminary decided to establish an 
alternative weekday and Shabbat service in which women would be permit- 
ted to participate on every level equally with men. The only caveat was that 
women who wished to serve as ba'aley tefillah and ba'aley k'riah would have 
to commit to accepting those mitzvot known as hiyyuv, which are obligatorily 
performed at specific times. 

During the next three years the topic of women in the cantorate continued 
to be frequently discussed while the Cantors Assembly waited to see if and 
when the Seminary would change its policy. 

At the Executive Council meeting of March 31, 1987, the first to be held 
after the Seminary's decision to grant Maria and Erica the diploma of haz- 
zan, extensive discussion took place on the subject. Opinions both in favor of 
and opposed to the Seminary's decision were articulated. As the discussion 
progressed it was clear that several questions were in need of answering: (1) 
What did the chancellor propose to do for women graduates of the Cantors 
Institute from previous years who had the technical knowledge but who 
had not been asked to accept hiyyuv? (2) Did this decision include all future 
women graduates of the Cantors Institute, or only those two individuals? (3) 


The Cantors Assembly has accepted male graduates of Hebrew Union Col- 
lege almost as freely as it has accepted graduates of the Seminary. How would 
the CA deal with women who graduated from the cantorial School at HUC, 
in regard to hiyyuv? The minutes of that meeting also reflected, on the one 
hand, a hesitation to set aside a long-held tradition of allowing only men to 
serve as cantors and, on the other hand, a realization that opening our doors 
to women would help to alleviate the acute shortage of bona fide cantors. 

At the conclusion of the discussion, President Saul Hammerman designated 
a special fact-finding committee to explore all of the ramifications of Chan- 
cellor Schorsch's decision. Serving on that committee were Hazzanim Saul 
Hammerman, Solomon Mendelson, Robert Kieval, Henry Rosenblum, Samuel 
Rosenbaum, Abraham Lubin, A. Eliezer Kirshblum, Morton Shames, Isaac 
Wall and Max Wohlberg. By the end of August the committee had already met 
three times for internal discussion and had interviewed Dr. Schorsch, Rabbi 
Ronald Price and Dr. Simon Greenberg. The committee had also arranged to 
meet with Rabbis Irving Greenberg, Kassel Abelson and Dr. Joel Roth. 

At the March 22, 1988 meeting of the Executive Council it was decided that 
a two-thirds majority of those present and entitled to vote would determine 
whether women would be admitted to membership. All day Tuesday of the 
annual convention would be devoted to a discussion and vote on the issue. 
It was anticipated that the vote would be close. 

The motion to admit women into the ranks of the Cantors Assembly was 
brought before the membership at the 1988 annual meeting, held during the 
convention, and was defeated. The next step was to place the question before 
the Law Committee of the Rabbinical Assembly. 

By the fall of 1988, Dr. Joel Roth, Chairman of the Law Committee, reported 
back to the Assembly. He pointed out that the Law Committee had voted in 
August 1972, that on the issue of women counting in the minyan, both the 
"yes" and "no" positions (majority and minority opinions) were valid within 
Conservative Halakhah. Additionally, in June 1974, the Law Committee voted 
to validate both the pro and con positions concerning whether women may 
serve as rabbis and cantors. The committee decided again that both positions 
were valid within the Conservative movement. Finally, the Law Commit- 
tee had decided that nothing was to be gained by reopening these issues, 
particularly in consideration of the strong emotions known to exist on both 
sides of the question. 

In his response to the Assembly, Dr. Roth also wrote the following. 

If the membership of the Cantors Assembly rejected women from 
membership on the sole grounds that the Law Committee had never voted 
to allow them to become Cantors, they were in error. And if they rejected 
women from membership because only a minority of the Committee 
voted to permit them to become cantors, the CA did not understand the 
policy of the Law Committee regarding the status of minority and majority 
positions. Within the last year or two, the Law Committee has consciously 
decided not to vote again on the issues of women in the minyan or in the 
rabbinate or cantorate. Since all positions had already been validated by 
it, and since new specific views had been published in the faculty papers, 
and since the Movement was divided, the Committee felt that nothing 
was to be gained by reopening the issues. Underlying this feeling was 
the Committee's knowledge that since minority opinions are every bit 
as acceptable as majority positions a new vote would not likely change 
anything substantively, and would, to the contrary, be likely to exacerbate 
The Commission appointed by President Hammerman was now of the 
unanimous opinion that it had gathered all of the pertinent information 
relative to this subject and had therefore completed its assignment. It was 
decided that a vote would once again be taken during the convention's an- 
nual meeting, without additional argumentation or discussion from the floor. 
As was stipulated for the last vote, a clear mandate — a two-thirds majority 
— would be required to admit women to membership. 

The vote on the question of admitting women to membership was taken at 
the annual meeting on May 16, 1989. Fifty- six percent of those voting endorsed 
the motion. While the majority vote in favor of admitting women reflected a 
change in mood and attitude from the previous year, it still did not comprise 
the two-thirds vote required by the mandate of the Executive Council. It was 
clear that the issue could not be allowed to drag on for another year without 
an attempt to reach a compromise solution. A new committee was formed, 
comprised of vocal advocates on both sides of the question. Appointed to 
that committee by newly elected president Robert Kieval were colleagues 
A. Eliezer Kirshblum, Paul Kowarsky, Jeffrey Shapiro, Jack Chomsky, Henry 
Rosenblum and David Tilman. 

The six met in late August, one day prior to a scheduled Executive Council 
meeting. After several hours of non-stop discussion, the following compro- 
mise proposal was unanimously agreed upon. 

1) Women graduates of the Cantors Institute would be admitted to 
membership in the Cantors Assembly at the next convention after 
a vote of the membership requiring a two-thirds majority. 


2) Simultaneously, by a two-thirds majority vote, a rule would be 
adopted whereby religious services during the conventions would 
be conducted as they had until then, in a traditional manner. 
Only men would be permitted to serve as shlihei tsibbur, read 
Torah, count to the minyan, be called to the Torah, lead Birkat 
HaMazon and HaMotsi, chant S'firat Ha'Omer and function as 
gabbai. Women would be permitted to perform in all concerts 
including those of hazzanut, be listed in the program as hazzan, 
lead Havah Nashir community singing at meals, present academic 
papers and participate in all educational, professional and business 

3) At the convention of 1994, a vote would be taken as to whether the 
conditions in paragraph two would be revoked or amended. Once 
again, a two-thirds majority would be required to implement any 
changes in paragraph two. 

Additionally, the Executive Council voted to ban all written electioneering 
or mass mailings by either side before or during the convention. 

At the annual convention of 1990 a third vote was taken on the question 
of admitting women to membership in the Cantors Assembly. While again, 
as in the previous year, most members voted in favor of the motion, the 
two-thirds majority that was required fell slightly short. It was clear to the 
leadership of the Cantors Assembly, particularly its president, Robert Kieval, 
that a new approach had to be found to resolving this issue. In recognition of 
the realities that women were graduating from the Cantors Institute as bona 
fide hazzanim, that their admission into the Cantors Assembly was inevitable 
and that the viability of the Cantors Assembly could no longer afford for the 
organization to continue to devote so much time and effort to this matter, 
the leadership turned again to its legal counsel. 

After consulting with our attorneys and several other legal firms and 
consultants, the officers reported the following to the Executive Council in 
the meeting of August 1990: 

The By-Laws of the Assembly are silent on the question of the gender 
of those to be admitted to membership and do not in any way restrict 
membership to males only.... Furthermore, in the opinion of all legal 
counsel, the Executive Council is the final authority in matters of 
qualification and acceptance or rejection of candidates for membership. 
The Council has the authority to formulate additional standards or to 
delete or amend existing qualifications. 

Legal counsel pointed out that in the case of the vote of the membership 
that took place at the last three conventions, it was the Executive Council 
who set the two-thirds requirement for passage of the resolution on 
whether or not to admit women. Such a plurality is not required by our 
By-Laws in deciding the outcome of a resolution. A simple majority is all 
that is required. 

The purpose of submitting those resolutions and the plurality required was 
a result of a policy decision of the Executive Council. It is the opinion of 
the lawyers that since the Executive Council has the undisputed authority 
to make or change policy on membership requirements, it can decide 
that it need not submit the question of the admission of women to a 

While the membership has observed a "tradition" of denying membership 
to women, the Executive Council can decide that in view of the 
Conservative movement's approval of the admission of women to the 
rabbinate, and the policy of granting the degree of hazzan to women 
graduates of the Cantors Institute, and the overwhelmingly large number 
of Conservative congregations who are granting equal religious rights to 
women, that this "tradition" is now subject to change. 
After all who had asked to speak had been heard, the question was called. 
The resolution passed by a vote of twenty-nine in favor of it and one opposed. 
There were two abstentions. The President declared that the resolution had 
been carried and that properly qualified women would be admitted to mem- 
bership in the same manner as qualified men. 

Samuel Rosenbaum (1920-1997) was hazzan at Temple Beth El of Rochester, New 
York from 1946 until 1987. He served the Cantors Assembly as president, and then 
as executive vice-president for almost forty years. An outstanding poet, he excelled at 
writing texts for musical works presented on radio and television, and in translating 
Yiddish folk songs. 

Stephen J. Stein, who is hazzan at Beth El Congregation in Akron, Ohio and who 
also served the Cantors Assembly as its president, succeeded Samuel Rosenbaum as 
Executive Vice-President in 1999. 

This article is reprinted from their collaborative chronicle, "The Second Twenty-Five 
Years: 1973-1977, Cantors Assembly Jubilee Journal, Jack Chomsky and Solomon 
Mendelson, editors (New York: Cantors Assembly), 1998: 368-371. 

Women in the Minyan and as Shelihot Tsibbur 

by the Va'adHalaklt Mimical Assembly of Israel ' 


Are women required to recite the amidah three times a day? Are they required 
to recite Musaf and N'ilah? Is it permissible to count them in the minyan for 
Bar'khu, Kaddish, and the repetition of the Amidah? May they serve as cantor 
for Shaharit, Minhah, Ma'ariv, Musaf, and N'ilah? 


According to the Mishnah (B'rakhot 3:3), women are required to recite 
the t'fillah, and t'fillah in the Mishnah does not mean "prayer" but rather the 
Amidah or the eighteen benedictions. The discussion of this Mishnah in the 
Bavli (20b) has been preserved in three different versions and the Rishonim 
ruled according to the text that they had in front of them. The Rif, Maimonides 
and others ruled that tefillah was originally a positive commandment for men 
and women without a fixed time or text; when Ezra and his court enacted 
fixed times and texts, men and women were obligated equally. Halakhot 
G'dolot, Rashi and Ramban ruled that t'fillah was originally a rabbinic enact- 
ment, which applied equally to men and women since t'fillah involves asking 
God for mercy. In any case, according to the Mishnah, the Bavli in all of its 
versions and the Rishonim cited in the responsum, women are required to 
recite the Amidah three times a day exactly like men. Furthermore, there 
are many testimonies from the Talmudic period until the eighteenth century 
which prove that women actually prayed every day and even three times a 
day at home or in the synagogue just like men. 

There is a disagreement among the Aharonim as to whether women are 
required to recite Musaf, but the proofs adduced by both sides are not very 
convincing. In such a case, it is preferable to rely on the early sources and, 
according to the plain meaning of the Mishnah and the Rambam, women 
are required to recite Musaf and N'ilah just as they are required to recite 
Shaharit, Minhah and Ma'ariv. 

Barekhu, Kaddish and the loud repetition of the Amidah are usually called 
d'varim shebi-k'dushah and many authorities forbid women from being 
counted in the minyan for these prayers. On the contrary, a careful reading 
of the Talmud and the Rambam reveals that it is permissible to count women 
in the minyan for these prayers. The Talmud derives the need for a minyan 

1 T'shuvot I'-Yameinu, vol. 6 (1995-1998), 4 th Responsum. 

for certain ceremonies from a d'rashah found in Megillah 23b (also B'rakhot 
21b). The very same d'rashah appears word for word in Sanhedrin 74b as an 
asmakhta for sanctifying God's name in the presence of a minyan. The latter 
passage in the Talmud assumes that Esther and other women are required to 
sanctify God's name in the presence often Jews, and this was codified by the 
major codes of Jewish law. Furthermore, a number of authorities ruled that 
women may even be counted in the minyan required for the sanctification 
of God's name. It is clear from the identical d'rashot adduced in these two 
passages that d'varim shebi-k'dushah and kiddush ha-shem are two sides of 
the same coin, since they both stem from the desire to sanctify God's name 
in public. Therefore, if it is permissible to count women in the minyan for 
kiddush ha-shem, they can be counted in the minyan for Bar'khu, Kaddish 
and K'dushah as well. 

Finally, there is a basic principle that whoever is obligated to do some- 
thing, may fulfill the obligation of the congregation (Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 
3: 8). We have proved above that women are required to recite the amidah 
in every prayer service and that they are required to sanctify God's name in 
public. As a result, it is permissible for them to act as cantor for all of the 
parts of the service under discussion. 

Rabbi David Golinkin 

In favor: Rabbi Michael Graetz 

Rabbi Gilah Dror 

Rabbi David Frankel 

Rabbi David Lazar 

Rabbi Simchah Roth 

Opposed: Rabbi Yisrael Warman 

A Conservative Woman Cantor Speaks Out 1 

by Janet Roth Krupnik 

It's highly gratifying for me to chair this symposium on issues that are impor- 
tant to us as women cantors; we hope and pray it will be duplicated every year 
at Cantors Assembly conventions. From the responses that many of you sent 
to my questionnaire, I've compiled a wish list of topics for discussion, now 
and in the future. Please bear with me if I exercise my prerogative as chair 
and paraphrase some of your words rather than quote them directly. Also, 
because the majority of your suggestions showed up in multiple responses, 
I will not attribute any of them to specific individuals. 

First and foremost on all of our minds — although you state it in different 
ways — is the question of how women might gain respect as cantors. Someone 
cited Hin'ni He'ani mi-Ma'as the cantor's self-referent prayer that opens the 
Musaf service on Yamim Nora'im. 

Here I stand, deficient in deeds and awed by You, 
Yet I dare to plead on behalf of Your people. 
The text petitions that the hazzan's prayers be worthy, as if he were an "ex- 
perienced elder, whose lifetime has been well spent and whose beard is fully 
grown." As women cantors we have to ask ourselves: what in the female lexicon 
of metaphors could we possibly substitute that would command the same 
reverence as that patriarchal male image? A few of you have jokingly replaced 
the phrase uz'kano m'gudal with its feminist flip side, shaddayim nakhonu, 
after the prophet Ezekiel's description of a Jerusalem that had grown exceed- 
ingly beautiful, with "firm breasts and luxuriant hair" (16: 7). 

But seriously, the fact remains that external considerations like physical ap- 
pearance and dress (always a factor when women appear in public roles) have 
currently assumed primacy of place, at the expense of values which formerly 
defined the cantorate. Judaic knowledge and vocal prowess are no longer 
viewed as decisive qualities for female — or even male — cantors. The bottom 
line: like it or not, we're in the same boat as our superstar male counterparts 
in trying to reclaim the dignity and respect due our sacred calling. 

Secondly — and it's only natural, considering that almost all of us are still 
within our childbearing years — we share the desire to see a standard provi- 
sion added to cantorial and rabbinic contracts, that would grant us maternity 

1 This session took place at the 54 th Annual Convention of the Cantors Assembly 
(Ellenville, New York: Nevele Grande Resort), May 6-10, 2001. 

leave. To start that ball rolling we would need an official statement from 
both the CA and the Rabbinical Assembly, addressing paternity — as well 
as maternity — leave. Many of you would also like to see provision made for 
flextime, and consideration of the physical problems entailed by singing or 
fasting during pregnancy (not to mention falling on one's face during the 
High Holiday Aleinu and Avodah). 

For any of these changes to take place we would have to invite our male 
colleagues — especially our elected officers — to attend our sessions, to sit 
on our panels and to participate fully in our discussions. How are we ever 
going to raise their consciousness if we keep discussions like this one off- 
limits to men? 

Having said that, I must add that there was also a consensus among you 
on the need for women cantors to network on their own. This could be done 
through an e-mail list accessible only to those of us who subscribe to it, in 
addition to our own convention sessions. It would enable us to reach out to 
one another, to create what many of you have called a Community of Kind- 
ness within the larger organization, one that would lead the way in valuing 
all its members as colleagues. 

Here are some suggested projects that such a caring community might 
undertake: commissioning or adapting traditional recitatives for our voices; 
mentoring younger colleagues, particularly first timers; inviting each other 
to appear as featured soloists at regional concerts; and organizing a children's 
choir to sing synagogue repertoire at conventions — an experience that many 
of us missed out on when we were growing up. 

That last item leads me to a number of other ideas you have spelled out for 
future convention planners to implement. 

• Give more than one choice when scheduling educational sessions, even if 
it means reducing the number of concerts. For example, it would enable 
people to attend both the chaplaincy and the conducting workshops if 
those sessions were not run concurrently. 

• Invite more women presenters. 

• Schedule a women's lunch-table discussion. 

• Schedule women's coaching sessions. 

• Gear some of the programming to new cantors. 

• Make the programming more interactive, less frontal. 

• Schedule more continuing education S( 

• Offer workshops in professional skills such as administration, public 
relations and marketing. 

• Offer sessions on improving cantor/rabbi communication. 

Finally, almost all of you expressed a desire for more recognition within 
the CA itself, possibly by means of a concert, a recording or a publication. At 
the 10 th anniversary of women being accepted into the CA, wasn't there even 
one women deserving of an award? As chair, I feel obligated to play devil's 
advocate by countering these legitimate questions with several of my own. 
First, have we ever stopped to ask ourselves what we can do for the CA? Up 
until now the CA has not been able to persuade capable women cantors to 
assume positions of responsibility within the organization. While some of us 
have served on the Executive Council, as a group we have refused to chair any 
committee, agreeing only to co-chair Planning for a few recent conventions 
and steadfastly avoiding the nitty-gritty of Management. 

Our women members need to know that before there can be women 
officers, there must be women who are willing and able to assume the same 
responsibilities that their male colleagues have assumed on their way to 
higher office. Women with small children (many of us) are the least likely to 
volunteer away any more of their precious time with their families than is 
absolutely necessary for their work. But they could still share ideas via the 
Internet, as mentioned earlier, and they could still recruit other women who 
do have the time and the energy demanded by chairing a committee. 

I'll close on that upbeat note, thanks for your attention, and above all for 
your thoughtful input. 

Janet Roth Krupnik is hazzan at the Summit Jewish Community Center in Summit, 
New Jersey. 

The Khazntes-The Life Stories of Sophie Kurtzer, Bas 
Sheva, Sheindele the Khaznte, Perele Feig, G oldie 
Malavsky, and Fraydele Oysher 

by Arianne Brown 


Long before women could even dream of the actuality of becoming cantors, 
long before the cantorial schools of any denomination even considered ac- 
cepting women, long before women's voices were heard on a bimah, there 
were a few special women who challenged the confines of tradition and dared 
to dream. 

Jewish tradition silenced the voices of many women — women who may 
have been able to use their voices within the parameters of Judaism to sing to 
God, to inspire others and to uplift the spirits of their people. Due to social 
confines and issues of kol ishah — the rabbinic notion that a woman's voice 
can be seductive and thus should not be heard — women were not encour- 
aged to sing in public. Young Jewish boys learned how to daven and read 
Torah. They were encouraged to use their voices to express their religious 
feelings. Young girls did not receive the same encouragement or education. 
They often learned Yiddish folk songs from their mothers and were familiar 
with the prayer services and Sabbath-table zemirot that they heard frequently, 
yet they remained quiet. One only has to walk into one of many synagogues 
today in which there is separate seating to observe the phenomenon of 
fervent prayer on the men's side in the form of lively singing, and equally 
fervent prayer on the women's side — escaping from closed lips that barely 
make a sound. Both types of prayer can be valid and beautiful. What happens, 
however, when the silent plea is not enough and a woman needs to express 
herself through singing? 

There is no proper term to describe the women who will be discussed in 
this article. They were not cantors, for they were not formally allowed to lead 
congregations in prayer, yet their heartfelt renditions of prayers undoubtedly 
caused their audiences to experience emotion and to pray. Many of them were 
called "khazntes." The Yiddish feminine ending for the Hebrew term hazzan 

(cantor) literally refers to a cantor's wife. Yet when used in conjunction with 
these women's names, it was understood to mean a female cantor or a woman 
who sang cantorial music. 

What caused these six women to rise to fame in a field occupied only by 
men? Surely there had to have been other women who attempted to sing 
hazzanut. What was it about these six women that allowed them to break 
through the barrier of gender associated with cantorial music? 

There are four common denominators among the six khazntes. The first 
is their immersion in a world of Jewish culture and hazzanut. Each of the six 
women came from a musical family. Sophie Kurtzer's father and husband 
were both cantors. Bernice Kanefsky (Bas Sheva) and Goldie Malavsky were 
daughters of cantors as well. Jean Gornish (Sheindele) was from a musi- 
cally talented family. Both she and Goldie Malavsky had their first singing 
experiences around the Shabbat table. Both women's brothers describe the 
wonderful harmonies their families would create around the Shabbat table 
as neighbors came and sat by the windows to listen. Perele's father was a 
lay baal tefillah, and her brother was a synagogue choir director. Fraydele 
Oysher was a descendant of seven generations of cantors and the sister of 
the famous cantor Moishe Oysher (1907-1958). Each of these women was 
deeply immersed from her earliest days in a world of hazzanut. 

The second common denominator among these women is their vocal talent. 
While there were other women who attempted to sing cantorial music, these 
women had the talent required to perform it successfully. Furthermore, they 
shared similar vocal qualities. The khazntes all sang in a low chest register. They 
listened to recordings of famous cantors and tried to imitate them, pushing 
their alto voices as low as they could possibly go. Sophie and Sheindele sang 
in contralto keys with a quality that could cause confusion about whether the 
singer was male or female. Perele Feig, whose voice actually sounded like that 
of a man, was the khaznte who remained closest to the male cantors. Goldie 
Malavsky sounded like a boy alto. Bas Sheva's and Fraydele's voices were 
clearly female, though they almost never made use of their head register and 
instead carried their low chest register as high as it could possibly go. Most 
people were not ready to accept women singing hazzanut, even outside the 
context of the synagogue. However, if the women sounded like men, there 
might have been an aspect of psychological comfort that allowed greater ac- 
ceptance than would have been the case with the soprano voice. 

The third common characteristic among these women is their possession 
of strong personalities and progressive attitudes. They all had to advocate for 
themselves in order to advance their careers. They were famous because they 


were novelty acts. Yet, had they been male, they would not have had to fight 
for their right to sing hazzanut. Perele Feig was able to seek fame as a singer 
of hazzanut while living among traditional Jews and maintaining her Ortho- 
dox lifestyle. Sheindele, as a teenager, bypassed her parents' strong feelings 
against her singing hazzanut while not availing herself of opportunities to 
become a popular singer. Singing songs was insufficient; only hazzanut satis- 
fied her soul. Fraydele moved away from her parents at the age of fifteen and 
came to New York to pursue a singing career. Because there were no Yiddish 
shows that featured a khaznte in the lead role, she had Yiddish playwrights 
and songwriters create shows for her, providing her with the opportunity to 
sing hazzanut on the Yiddish stage. 

Finally, each of these six women had a deep love and passion for hazzanut. 
This love steered their hearts and their lives in an unusual direction. Their 
contributions to the world of Jewish music are immeasurable, for they cre- 
ated deep impressions upon all who heard them, and certainly caused many 
people to think about the role of women's voices in Jewish music. The khazntes' 
prayers were not silent; rather, they were broadcast, recorded, and preserved 
for future generations. Their stories and their voices deserve to be heard. 

Lady Cantor Madam Sophie Kurtzer (1896-1974) 

To begin listening to this recording without prior knowledge of who is 
performing can be an unsettling experience. The voice is uncanny; it is 
not quite feminine, nor is it masculine. The image that comes to mind is 
that of an unusually robust boy alto on the verge of a voice change. It is a 
sound apparently cultivated through direct imitation of cantors. 

The Chicago Daily Tribune of April 25, 1921 tells an interesting story in- 
volving Sophie Kurtzer. The headline reads: "Concert Fund, Manager Flit, 
Crowd Riots — Artists, Unpaid, Refuse to Give Program." The article tells of 
a concert about to begin when it was suddenly discovered that the concert's 
promoter had walked away with the concert proceeds. Upon hearing the 
news, the artists — Sophie Kurtzer, advertised as "the only woman cantor in 
the world," and Piastor Borissoff, a Russian violinist — refused to perform 
until they were paid what they had been promised, despite the two thousand 
people who were crowded into Carmen's Hall. 

The crowd clamored for the concert to start. After some pleading, the artists 
agreed to perform part of their program. Despite Sophie Kurtzer's singing of 
"a number of Hebrew hymns" and Borissoff 's violin playing, some audience 

1 Weiss, Samuel, liner notes to Mysteries of the Sabbath (Yazoo, 1994). 

members still felt they had not received their money's worth. The story ends 
with a police search for the culprit. 

We learn several things from this incident. First of all, Sophie Kurtzer, 
along with one other performer, was able to attract two thousand people to 
the concert. Although she was only twenty-four years old at the time, and 
had not yet released her recordings, she must have already made a name 
for herself. How she accomplished this is a mystery. There is no evidence of 
Sophie singing on the radio, and even if she had, no national radio network 
existed at the time. 

While the amount of discovered information about Sophie Kurtzer is not 
great, her voice has been preserved on three modern recordings. The first is 
called Di Eybike Mame: Women in Yiddish Theater and Popular Song, 1905 
— 1929, released in 2003 by Wergo Records. Listed as "Lady Cantor Madam 
Sophie Kurtzer (Adesser Khaznte, Cantor from Odessa)," Sophie's Kiddush for 
Shabbat evening is included in this compilation. The same piece is included 
in a CD entitled Mysteries of the Sabbath — Classic Cantorial Recordings: 
1 90 7-1 947 produced by Henry Sapoznik and Richard Nevins on the Yazoo 
label in 1994. Sophie is the only woman included among cantorial Master's 
such as Yossele Rosenblatt, Gershon Sirota, Zavel Kwartin and David Roit- 
man. The last of the three modern recordings that include Sophie Kurtzer 's 
Kiddush is a new 2005 release by Tara Music entitled Great Cantorial Singers: 
Masterpieces of the Synagogue, which also features the voices of Bas Sheva, 
Sheindele, Perele Feig, and Fraydele Oysher. 

It is not apparent whether or not Sophie Kurtzer was aware of how monu- 
mental her recordings were. While the other khazntes sought fame continually, 
Sophie did not pursue singing in the later years of her life. Perhaps the great- 
est impact she made during her lifetime was on her niece, Bernice Kanefsky, 
who would later rise to fame as "Bas Sheva". 

Bas Sheva — Soul of a People (1925-1960) 

Just a few years ago the entire musical world was saddened by the untimely 
death of Bas Sheva, the lovely young Pennsylvania-born singer whose 
magnificent voice had electrified theater and concert audiences across the 
country. The daughter of a cantor and concert singer, she sang the ancient 
Hebraic chants with a remarkable degree of authenticity and emotional 
expression, though as a woman, she was ineligible for the cantorial calling 
herself. This re-issue of her original Capitol album contains six prayers 
as they might have been sung in some little East European synagogue, or 

its counterpart in one of the great American cities where immigrant Jews 
Bas Sheva became the lead singer in her husband Al Hausman's band, and 
together they performed at weddings and became popular in the "Borscht Belt" 
circuit of Catskills resort hotels: Youngs Gap, Gilberts, Pines, the Concord, 
and many others. The general layout of a Catskills hotel show would consist 
of a singer who performed a forty-five minute set, followed by a comedian 
who entertained for an hour. 

Stylistically, Bas She- 
va was a Catskills pop 
singer, molded in the 
style of Judy Garland, 
who had something ex- 
tra special. Example 
1. shows a publicity 
photo of Bas Sheva at 
the outset of her career. 
She would sing popular 
songs including Rock a 
Bye Your Baby With a 
Dixie Melody and Fly- 
ing Purple People Eater. 
In the middle of her set, 
the lights would dim, 
a drum roll was heard, 
and Bas Sheva would 
put on a lace head cover- 
ing before singing a big 
cantorial number. This 
unique versatility was 
what set her apart from 
other female singers. 

Example 1. Publicity photo of Bas Sheva at the 
outset of her career. 

The audiences reacted most strongly to Bas Sheva's singing of hazzanut. 
Only ten years had passed since the end of World War II, and many a Holocaust 
survivor in the Catskills crowds broke out in tears at Bas Sheva's cantorial 

2 Liner notes to Soul of a People. 

renditions. It is reported that the comedians could not get a laugh out of the 
audience after Bas Sheva sang! 

Mark Hausman, the only child of Bas Sheva and Al Hausman, has childhood 
memories of his parents renting a bungalow in the Catskills. Summertime 
was especially prosperous for the Hausmans, with Bas Sheva and Al being 
sought after by hundreds of hotels and bungalow colonies. 

Newspaper ads and reviews found in the Miami Herald, New York Times, 
Los Angeles Times, and even the Christian Science Monitor provide us with 
a tableau of highlights from Bas Sheva's career. 

She appeared in a 1949 film called Catskill Honeymoon that was made as 
an advertisement for the Youngs Gap Hotel. The video of it, still available for 
purchase from the National Center for Jewish Film at Brandeis University, 
features a variety of acts in a Catskill revue show, starring popular singers, 
actors and comedians. Bas Sheva is introduced as "a female cantor — a 
khaznte." She appears in a big fancy white dress with sparkling earrings and 
a lace kippah. A beautiful girl with dark hair and complete command of the 
stage, Bas Sheva sings Israel Schorr's famous Sheyiboneh Beis HaMikdosh with 
a deep, rich tone. She uses chest voice, and the cantorial dreydlekh (stylistic 
vocal turns in Eastern European hazzanut) flow effortlessly from her mouth. 
Yet, her voice has a definite feminine quality to it. The second piece she sings 
is the tenor aria "Vesti La Giubba" from Ruggiero Leoncavallo's opera, IPa- 
gliacci. It is easy to understand how Bas Sheva's audiences would have been 
completely captivated by her beauty, rich voice, command of the stage, and 
unusual repertoire. 

In 1954 she came out with a solo album, The Soul of a People, for Capitol 
Records. On it, she sings the standard Sheyiboneh Beis HaMikdosh by Schorr, 
R'tseh by Aryeh Leib Schlossberg and Habeit by Israel Alter (a composition 
that her father had previously recorded). Zorei'a Ts'dokos, Mi She-Osoh Nissim 
and Sim Sholom — also included — appear to be original arrangements of 
standard cantorial material. In a review of this album, Hazzan Samuel Weiss 
describes Bas Sheva's voice as having the "bedrock of a cabaret singer" as op- 
posed to the classical training of today's female cantors. Newspaper reports 
list 70,000 copies of her album as having been sold throughout the United 
States and Europe. 

3 Personal interview with Mark Hausman, 2005. 

4 Weiss, Samuel, posting to Jewish-Music@Shammash mailing list, March 5, 200 1 . 

5 "Bas Sheva to Entertain Donor Guests," Home News of Springfield Jewish Home 
for the Aged, November, 1956. 


Bas Sheva's greatest fame came from her appearances on the Ed Sullivan 
show. While performing in a variety show at Miami's Mount Sinai Hospital 
her talent was discovered by Ed Sullivan himself, the master of ceremonies 
for that night's benefit program. Little did he know that his invitation to Bas 
Sheva to perform on his show would cause so much controversy. 

After she appeared on the Ed Sullivan show for the first time in 1956 with 
her standard Sheyiboneh Beis haMikdosh, the Union of Orthodox Rabbis 
wrote a letter strongly objecting to a woman singing liturgical texts on na- 
tional television. Interestingly enough, they also opposed the fact that she 
had sung these texts without a head covering! They discouraged Ed Sullivan 
from having Bas Sheva on his show again. However, her fame was growing, 
and Sullivan looked beyond the angry letters and invited Bas Sheva back for 
another appearance in 1957. While she had appeared in the beginning of the 
lineup for her first appearance, her second performance shows her in the 
featured spot — the act just before the closing number. This was an obvious 
tribute to her popularity and effectiveness. 

The angry letters continued after Bas Sheva's second performance, and 
not only from the Orthodox Union. The minutes of the Executive Council 
of the Cantors Assembly, taken at a meeting held at the Jewish Theologi- 
cal Seminary on February 25, 1957, show an entire section of the meeting 
devoted to discussing Bas Sheva's appearance on the Ed Sullivan show. It is 
reported that Hazzan Charles Bloch, the Cantors Assembly representative on 
the National Jewish Music Council, publicly objected to Bas Sheva's singing 
on the Ed Sullivan show as a representative of Jewish music in celebration of 
Jewish Music Month. Her performance was found objectionable. In reply, a 
representative of the Jewish Welfare Board accepted responsibility for her 
endorsement and "admitted that he was in error and assured the Council that 
such mistakes will not be repeated." 

Hazzan Samuel Rosenbaum, then president of the Cantors Assembly, wired 
a telegram to Ed Sullivan on the Assembly's behalf, objecting to Bas Sheva's 
performance of liturgical music on his variety program. A letter was also sent 
to Cantor Louis Lippitz, honorary president of the Jewish Ministers Cantors 
Association who had also officially endorsed "Miss Sheva," urging him to think 
twice before giving such "unworthy and undeserving" endorsements. 

Bas Sheva's sister, Gail Taksel, remembers that although Ed Sullivan was 
very fond of Bas Sheva's talent, he did not want the pressure of the rabbinical 
and cantorial authorities of New York. Bas Sheva offered to sing other music, 
but Mr. Sullivan was only interested in her for her unique singing of Jewish 
music. Therefore, she was no longer invited to appear on his show. 


An interesting diversion in Bas Sheva's career came about when Les Baxter, 
a bandleader / composer of "lounge" or "bachelor pad" music in the 1940s 
and 1950s, discovered her. Baxter heard the depth and visceral quality of 
Bas Sheva's voice and was inspired to write The Passion for her — a piece in 
six movements with full symphony orchestra and choir. The music is almost 
completely wordless, comprised of hums, groans, and grunts. It was extremely 
risque for its time. The piece contains a movement called "lust" and another 
depicting a child rape scene. Baxter was reportedly taken to court for federal 
pornography charges on account of it. According to Mark Hausman, com- 
paring this piece to the hazzanut that his mother sang is like comparing "the 
sacred and the profane." It shows a totally different side of Bas Sheva. 

Most of her publicity came in the form of advertisements and reviews of 
the film (now a video) Catskill Honeymoon and of several touring Catskills 
revue-type shows, such as Borscht Capades and Farfel Follies. Praise for Bas 
Sheva abounds in these ads. "Miss Bas Sheva, the daughter of a New York 
cantor, brings a singing style of a quality that has attracted favorable operatic 
notice." Headlines in the Los Angeles Times on October 21, 1952 read Farfel 
Follies Boasts Notable Song Headliner, referring to Bas Sheva, who "made a 
notable impression with her renditions of traditional Hebraic melodies that 
were powerful in their dramatic effect." 

Praise for Bas Sheva's unique and powerful voice abounds, yet one review, 
written by Bob Ellis in a Miami newspaper in 1951, really says it all. 

Those who continually look for reason for castigating — and I have 
discovered that writing a column and doing a radio program makes 
one a good target for such time wasting — have had a field day tossing 
barbs in my direction for my not mentioning Bas Sheva who is currently 
making her first cabaret appearance at Copa City. It is a matter of record, 
however, that space in this column today has been deliberately reserved 
for my comments on a woman who possesses one of the rarest talents I 
feel that I have been privileged to witness and hear. Bas Sheva came on the 
great Copa City stage and electrified an audience which doesn't "electrify" 

Around me people sat stunned with the impact of her first song — "I'm 
Gonna Live Till I Die." Who is she? What did the M.C. say her name was? 
Sensational! Great! were some of the superlatives and comments. She 

6 Personal Interview with Mark Hausman, 2005. 

7 Musical Alps, Los Angeles Times, June 13, 1950. 

8 Schallert, Edwin. "Farfel Follies Boasts Notable Song Headliner," Los Angeles 
Times: October 21, 1952. 


next offered "Where Can I Go" — a song brought back from abroad by 
Leo Fuld, who was given the song by a Polish displaced person who had 
written it while in a concentration camp. The rare artistry of this woman 
who sang this song with a passion and fervor never heard on a night club 
floor, was beginning to hit the Copa audience with full impact. I glanced 
around and saw that people had stopped eating — and were watching and 
listening and were experiencing that chill that goes up and down one's 
spine when greatness is being witnessed. 

Next came the surprise of my life in the entertainment field. Bas Sheva 
had announced that she would now sing "Vesti La Guibba," the great tenor 
aria from I Pagliacci. Who is this woman who dares defy tradition and 
sing an aria only our greatest tenors have dared tackle, thought I. My mind 
quietly dwelled on the possibility of hearing Gigli, the great Italian tenor, 
approach with the same quiet dignity an announcement that we would 
now sing the "Bell Song" from Lakme. I chuckled and waited — waited 
for what I was sure would be a novelty version, or burlesque version, of 
the aria. I reached over for a sip of coffee — and as I did so I heard a clear 
bel canto voice — a voice that might well have been Gigli himself. In clear, 
superb Italian, the lyrics poured forth — "I am but a clown, my heart is 
broken, the world is but a play — and every person therein but an actor." 
I did not look up on the stage again, for fear that the illusion might be 
broken - for in my mind's eye I recaptured the poignancy of the clown 
on the stage — singing, though his heart is broken. The aria finished, a 
glance to the stage and she was still there — Bas Sheva. I found it almost 
impossible to believe. 

The audience roared approval, and Bas Sheva came back. This time placing 
on her head the cantorial cap, or yarmulke, to sing like I have never heard 
singing before."Sheyiboneh Beis Hamikdosh" was Miss Sheva's next 
offering. The chant of the people some for some two thousand years. The 
cry of the people whose temple had been ruthlessly defiled. Music and 
words depicting the endless strife, pathos and determination to rebuild 
their house of worship, and a place for themselves in the world! The actual 
engagement and presentation of Bas Sheva in a cabaret is, to my way of 
thinking, an act worthy of particular commendation. 
I found only one review of her work that was less than glowing. Bagels and 
Yox of 1958, an American-Yiddish Revue in which bagels were tossed into 
the aisles during the opening number, was not particularly well received by 
Melvin Maddocks of the Christian Science Monitor. From him we learn that 
Bas Sheva's role in the show was to sing one cantorial selection, two traditional 
hymns, and one modern patriotic Israeli ballad. He notes that Bas Sheva's 

9 Ellis, Bob. Greater Miami After Dark, AM — Miami Beach, March23, 1951. 

voice has a range of more than three-and-a-half octaves, and says that her 
manner was spectacular, but that she sounded hoarse under the extreme 
demands she placed on her voice. 

The demands that Bas Sheva placed upon herself as a performer grew to be 
too much for her health. Even after she gave birth to Mark in 1953, Bas Sheva 
and Al continued to tour, bringing their son along together with a nursemaid. 
Despite the insulin injections that she gave herself daily, her health was af- 
fected and she began to lose her vision. Her doctors advised giving up show 
business, saying that all of the traveling and performing was too stressful. For 
Bas Sheva, singing was her life, and giving it up was not a possibility. 

In an effort to accommodate her doctors' concerns, Bas Sheva and Al 
decided to take a luxury liner to Puerto Rico, where she had been engaged 
to perform. Rather than fly, they would enjoy a free cruise together, made 
possible by a few performances on board. Never having been on a ship be- 
fore, Bas Sheva suffered terrible seasickness and went to the ship's doctor for 
medication. The doctor on board did not take her medical history correctly. 
The medicine he gave her for her seasickness reacted with her insulin injec- 
tions and instantly killed her. The date was February 11, 1960. At the age of 
34, Bas Sheva was buried in Woodbridge, New Jersey. 

Sheindele di Khaznte (1915-1981) 

Robed woman sings Hebrew church music 

Shattering the ancient traditions of the synagogue, a woman donned 
satin robes of bridal white and sang Hebrew liturgical music to a large 
audience at Orchestra Hall yesterday afternoon. She prefers to be known 
as "Sheindele the Khazente" — khazente being the feminine form of the 
Hebrew term for cantor — but actually she is an American girl, Jean 
Gornish of Philadelphia. Only an expert in the highly specialized field of 
Jewish music could properly evaluate Sheindele's treatment of the ancient 
prayers and chants. Conventional critical standards are of little purpose 
here... Judged from the purely vocal aspect, Sheindele often appears to be 
imitating the male tenor voice, and there is actually very little of normal 
vocalization in her presentation. But there is an unmistakable air of 
artistry in the precision and exactness and in the sometimes throbbing 
emotionalism with which her songs are projected. Probably the main gauge 
of her ability was the response of the audience, and this was frequently 

10 Maddocks, Melvin, "American Yiddish Review Presented at the Shubert, " Christian 
Science Monitor, November 26, 1957. 

stormy, often breaking out in unrestrained applause before the canteuse 
— if that be the proper term — had even reached the end of a number. 
Born Jean Gornish, Sheindele's fame would spread far beyond her hometown 
of Philadelphia. 

Almost all of the articles about Sheindele show her performing in a Jewish 
context. A frequently used biography even makes the claim that after high 
school, she had many offers to perform in bands and at "swanky night clubs," 
but she had made up her mind to become a "woman cantor." There are only a 
few instances, early in her career, in which Jean sang in a non-Jewish context. 
At age eighteen she sang for the Halloween and New Year's Eve parties at the 
Lamb Tavern Inn, performing under the name of "Jean Walker — Slick Song 
Bird." One cannot help but wonder what her parents would have thought 
of that! It is very possible that she used this stage name to avoid word getting 
back to them and to the Jewish community. 

In 1936 we see Jean being referred to as a khaznte. The Yiddish ad for the 
Bukier Beneficial Association advertises di yiddishe khaznte — ir vet zikher 
hanoeh hobnfun ihre khazonishe nigunim (the Jewish khaznte — you will 
surely enjoy her cantorial melodies). In addition, she is billed several times 
as di barimte odesser khaznte mis dzhin gornish (the famous khaznte from 
Odessa - Miss Jean Gornish). Knowing, as we do, that she was from Phila- 
delphia, we can assume that this had to be a publicity stunt. 

By 1937 Jean was appearing regularly on radio stations WRAX and WPEN. 
"Jean Gornish, alto" is listed as being a part of the premiere talk show This 
is the Land with key speaker Rabbi Edward Israel, Chairman of the Central 
Conference of Reform Rabbis' Committee on Social Justice. She was also a 
featured singer on the Planters Hi-Hat Peanut Oil radio show on WSBC. 

Mary Bernstein, a classical singer who was a contemporary of Sheindele's 
on the Planters Peanut Oil show, explains that Sheindele had the freedom 
to choose her own new material each week, and that various singers would 
sing the Planters theme song together. Some of these singers, including both 
Mary and Sheindele, would also perform revue shows of duets and solos in 
the Catskills, in Atlantic City and all around Philadelphia. While Mary and 
Sheindele never developed a close personal friendship, Mary remembers 

11 Goldberg, Albert. "Robed Woman Sings Hebrew Church Music," Chicago Daily 
Tribune: December 25, 1944. 

12 Idem. 

13 Sheindele's Archives at the Philadelphia Jewish Archive Center. 


Sheindele as a nice, generous person who was in a league of her own with 
her cantorial music. ' 

In 1938, when Jean was twenty-two years old, we see a real shift in her bill- 
ing. Instead of "Jean Gornish the alto," she became "Sheindele the Khaznte 
— the world's only woman cantor." Sheindele performed for many organiza- 
tions in the Philadelphia area, listed as "the famous girl cantor," and di zisse 
khenevdike zingerin (the sweet, lovely singer). At this point she had achieved 
enough fame for news of her bout with appendicitis and her recovery from 
it to be written about in the newspaper! 

The 1940s represented the height of Sheindele's career. Whereas printed 
programs from the previous decade describe Sheindele performing with folk 
singers and comedians, during the 1940s she was more likely to share a recital 
or radio program with a cantor. Programs show her appearing with Cantors 
Shlomo Goldenberg, Jacob Barkin, Peretz Lemkof and Zanvel Kwartin, and she 
was usually the featured entertainment, rather than the opening act. Sheindele 
produced and sponsored gala shows of her own in which she invited both 
secular and Jewish performers to raise money for various charities. Advertise- 
ments were taken out in program books by family and friends. She had many 
fans and supporters. There is even evidence of a "Khaznte's fan club!" 

As news of the "lovely lady cantor" spread further, so did Sheindele's ap- 
pearances. She performed in Washington DC, in Milwaukee, and in a monu- 
mental event at Chicago's Orchestra Hall — in 1944 — under the Harry Zelzer 
Concert Management. She gave recitals for every holiday, including Hanuk- 
kah, Purim, Shavuot and even Mother's Day. Example 2. shows Sheindele's 
personal transcription of Jacob Rapaport's Brokhoh fun Hallel, the cantor's 
benediction prior to leading the recitation of Psalms 113-118. 18 

14 Personal Interview with Mary Bernstein, 2005. 

15 Sheindele's Archives at the National Museum of American Jewish History. 

16 Sheindele's Archives at the Philadelphia Jewish Archive Center. 

17 Sheindele's Archives at the National Museum of American Jewish History. 

18 Her notation follows Cantor Mordechai Hershman's recording of Rapaport's 
composition, complete with brief instrumental riffs between sections (Philadelphia: 
Gratz College Library), Rare Books Collection of the Music Department. 


Example 2. Sheindele's personal transcription of Jacob Rapaport's Brokhohfun 
Hallel, after Mordechai Hershman's recording. 

There were some performances that blur the line between Sheindele as a 
performer and Sheindele as a cantor. While she certainly could not lead ser- 
vices in a synagogue, the Passover seder was a unique opportunity in which she 
was allowed more freedom. Throughout the years, programs show Sheindele 
appearing alongside other cantors leading sedarim in Atlantic City hotels. 
Eventually, Sheindele was able to lead the seder on her own. In an undated 
clipping, Hotel Jenoff advertises: "Sheindele will officiate with her own choir 
at the Passover sedarim" Sheindele assisted several cantors in leading High 
Holiday services that took place in hotels, and at times served as a choir direc- 
tor and soloist. She was once the featured soloist at Philadelphia's Metropolitan 
Opera House with Hazzan Peretz Lemkof officiating. Furthermore, there are 
several examples of Sheindele actually conducting services, though the type 
of service is unclear. In 1945, she "conducted services" for the Pennsylvania 
Army and Navy Service Committee. Later clippings show that she led ser- 

19 Sheindele's Archives at the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center. 

vices at a hospital. Her niece, Maida Averbach, claims that she did lead some 
actual Shabbat services. Though she could not officiate in a synagogue, it is 
significant that Sheindele did lead services in some capacity. 

Sheindele's archives show fewer programs from the 1950s. When asked 
about this gap in her singing career, Maida explains that Sheindele had 
problems with arthritis and also developed a nodule on her vocal cords at 
one point and had to limit her singing. She was able to recover and her fame 
certainly did not diminish, for several of her key performances took place in 
the early 1960s. 

Sheindele began appearing more frequently on the Yiddish stage, includ- 
ing the Park Theater in Chicago and the Folksbiene in New York City. She 
was always featured as a solo musical performer, and did not appear in any 
of the dramatic skits. 

On May 1, 1960, "Cantor Sheindele" took part in a major cantorial concert 
in Carnegie Hall, starring Cantors David Kusevitsky, Bela Hershkowitz, Zvee 
Aroni and fellow khaznte Perele Feig. Performances at various synagogues 
and organizations continued throughout the 1960s. When Sheindele left 
her regular radio broadcast on the Planters Hi-Hat Peanut Oil show, WSBC 
radio station called upon all "lovers of liturgical music" to arrange a farewell 
banquet and concert in her honor. 

Sheindele's singing career slowed down considerably as the 1970s ap- 
proached. Her later years were spent in Tenafly, New Jersey, where she worked 
at an office job in a hospital and, as always, spent time with her family. 

Examining pictures of Sheindele, one might guess that she was a serious, 
quiet, studious type of woman. Her family says quite the opposite! Sheindele 
brought life with her wherever she went. She was a comedian! She liked jokes, 
loved to have fun, and always made everyone laugh at the dinner table. Her 
niece remembers her driving to Atlantic City wearing funny glasses with a 
mustache and a big nose just to get a laugh. Her brother Sidney calls her a "live 
wire," claiming that she made every simkhe (Yiddish: celebratory occasion) 
a real simhah (Hebrew: joy). She would take over as mistress of ceremonies 
— entertaining, singing and telling jokes. She would lead their family's se- 
darim and would breathe life into the Haggadah, dramatically acting out the 
parable of the four sons and encouraging everyone to sing and harmonize 
the seder songs with her. 

20 Sheindele's Archives at the National Museum of American Jewish History. 

21 Personal Interviews with Honey Levin, Maida Averbach, and Sidney Gornish, 

Sheindele loved having family come to her house. Her nephew Marvin 
remembers visiting Sheindele on Sundays in the summer and going swim- 
ming in her pool. Sheindele's sister Honey says that it breaks her heart to 
remember the end of her sister's life. Sheindele suffered from lung cancer, 
which eventually caused her death in April of 1981 at the age of sixty-six. 
Honey remained by her side until the end. 

Soon after Sheindele's passing her sister, Sylvia Silver, donated much of 
Sheindele's materials to the Philadelphia Jewish Archives Center and to the 
National Museum of American Jewish History, both located in Philadelphia. 
There are albums full of her publicity material, concert programs, newspaper 
ads, sheet music, a notebook of Sheindele's compositions, full size posters 
from her performances, and various objects including her High Holiday 
prayerbook cover and cantorial robe. 

Perele Feig — Hungarian Khaznte (1910-1987) 

Dressed in cantorial costume, Perele Feig created a deep impression. Her 
voice is unusually rich and warm, with sombre qualities in low register and 
upper tenor tones of striking timbre. Besides having mastered the cantorial 
tradition, Miss Feig is an impressive singer by concert standards. There 
were many rewarding moments during her singing of cantorial and folk 
song groups. She uses her warm, powerful voice with the conscience of 
any artist and it was often times a source of wonder how she maintained 
such a clarity of line when singing so fervently. She is an artist whose 
resources of movement, gesture, facial mobility and dramatic instinct are 
uncommonly compelling. 
Perele's career began rather late in life, after she married Jack Schwartz whom 
she had met through a family friend, and gave birth to their only child, a 
daughter named Renee. While vacationing in the Catskills, Perele was walking 
around humming to herself, as she always did. The owner of the Avon Lodge, 
Meyer Artkin, overheard her voice and told her that she had tremendous talent 
and really should do something with it. Perele had been reared in a community 
where women were not encouraged to sing solo, let alone sing hazzanut, and 
Atkin's simple encouragement was enough to get her started. 

Once she was heard, it was inevitable that her career would take off quickly. 
Between the 1950s and 1970s, she performed on a radio program over New 
York's station WEVD, first on a Saturday night segment, and later on Sunday. 

22 Personal Interviews with Marvin Gornish and Honey Levin, 2005. 

23 Maley, S. Roy, in The Winnipeg Tribune. 

Perele was accompanied by composer Abraham Ellstein and sponsored by 
Shapiro's Wine. She would usually sing her theme, the refrain from Joshua 
Samuel Weisser's R'tseh Asirosom, one full cantorial number, and one Yiddish 
folk song. Because she had to sing new pieces every week, Perele developed 
a vast repertoire. Her daughter Renee remembers that although her mother 
constantly performed her favorites, she was always learning new material. 
Contemporaries of Perele's who sang on the Jewish radio stations claim that 
Perele tried everything, and was not afraid to interpret any of the Master's' 

Hazzanim Solomon and Jacob Mendelson, whose parents were close friends 
of the Feig family, remember Perele's singing of TiherRabi Yishmoel, a recita- 
tive that was more closely identified with the cantor who wrote it — Zavel 
Kwartin, — than any other. They claim that note for note, Perele sounded 
exactly like Kwartin. Jack Mendelson once played her recording of this piece 
for Israel Goldstein, then dean of the Hebrew Union College's School of Sacred 
Music, and even he thought that it was Kwartin singing! Sol Mendelson is 
of the opinion that Kwartin's pieces worked so well in Perele's voice because 
his music stayed primarily in a middle register, with occasional upper-octave 
leaps. She never attempted singing material that required a sustained high 
register, such as that of Moshe Koussevitsky Perele's trademark pieces were 
Kwartin's Teka BeShofar Godol and UveYom Simhaskhem, which she would 
sing successively. The Teka opens with a famous dreydl which she nailed per- 
fectly each and every time. According to Sol, Perele could sing every dreydl 
and krekhts 15 ever written! 

Perele was well known on the cantorial concert circuit. She sang in all of 
the Catskills hotels, appeared regularly in St. Louis, and even had invitations 
to sing in South Africa, which she never accepted. Other concert venues 
included the Histadruth of New York and New Jersey, the Breakers Hotel in 
Atlantic City, the Young Israel Synagogues of New York and Boston, Brith 
Achim of Philadelphia, the Marmaros Federation of New York and Cleve- 
land, Ocean Parkway Jewish Center of Brooklyn, Beth Tzedec of Toronto, 
the Heights Temple of Cleveland, Ohio, and Congregation Tifereth Judah of 
Revere, Massachusetts. 

24 Personal Interviews with Renee Rotker, Barry Serota of Musique International, 
and Elizabeth Grossman, colleague of Perele Feig, 2005. 

25 traditional vocal "cry" in the Eastern European style of hazzanut 

26 Personal Interviews with Solomon and Jacob Mendelson, 2005. 

27 Brochures from the Jewish Lecture Center Bureau, Feig Family Collection. 


Perele's typical concert consisted of mostly cantorial pieces combined with 
a few Yiddish folk songs. She appeared at prestigious venues such as Town 
Hall and even Carnegie Hall, in a concert sponsored by WEVD and featuring 
Cantors David Kusevitsky, Zvee Aroni and Sheindele di Khaznte. 

Perele also appeared on the Yiddish stage, although she did not perform 
there as a dramatic actress. During a typical evening a movie would be shown, 
followed by a vaudeville comedy act, followed by a singer. Perele performed 
with all the famous actors of the time, including Henrietta Jacobson, Molly 
Picon and Menashe Skulnik. She made several recordings on the Reena label, 
and like the other khazntes, entertained at weddings singing the familiar 
ViMalei by Brody 28 and Carrie Jacobs' I Love You Truly. 

A Hanukkah concert program from 1955, in which "Khazente Perele Feig" 
performed as the guest artist with the Jewish Community Choir and Orchestra 
of Winnipeg, is typical. In her first set she performed Oshamnu Mikol Am, 
Modim Anahnu Lokh, VeHu Rahum Yekhaper Ovon and Sholesh S'eudes. Her 
second set included TiherRabi Yishmoel, Rozo DeShabbos, Birkhas Kohanim 
and Nigndl. Many of these same selections can be heard on a recent recording 
of the Khazntes — Great Cantorial Singers — Masterpieces of the Synagogue 
— released in 2005 by Tara Music. 

G oldie Malavsky - The Malavsky Family Singers 

So Papa came to us and said, "Children, since New York has accepted you, 
we're going to Israel, and we have to see how Israel should accept us." In 
1952, they made a trip for us to Israel. It was a beautiful experience. We 
made two, three concerts a day. We worked so hard, we all lost weight! 
They had all generations of Israelis come see us. They loved us so much... 
especially Goldie. They kept saying, "Goldie Malavsky, stay here, and Golda 
Meir should go home." They fell in love with her. They used to follow us 
around the streets saying "G'veret Goldie." It was just beautiful. 

28 Editor's note: Brody was the name of the town where the actual compos 
Strelisker (1806-1857) lived. 

29 Personal Interview with Renee Rotker, 2005. 

30 Chanukah Concert Program, Jewish Musical Club of Winnipeg, Dec 
Feig Family Collection. 

31 Malavsky Sisters' Interview with the Milken Archive < 

Goldie was born in Philadelphia on October 29, 1923, and she was the child 
who first started singing with her father Samuel at the young age of four. 
Hazzan Malavsky would take her on tour with him to sing in concerts and 
in services. By the age of six, Goldie had her own radio program. She would 
sing a new piece each week, and her father would accompany her on piano. 

An advertisement in the Washington Post dated December 31, 1936 publi- 
cizes a service and concert at the Jewish Community Center in which Samuel 
Malavsky would be assisted by "his talented eleven-year-old daughter, G oldele, 
who sings folk songs and chants in cantor style." Goldie's boyish alto voice 
was perfect for the solos a young boy would typically sing, and so Samuel 
taught Goldie these solos and traveled with her, astounding many audiences 
with the unique abilities of his young daughter. 

As young women living in California, Goldie and her older sister Gittie 
joined together to form a duo called "the Marlin Sisters." Wanting to draw on 
their diverse musical abilities, they sang country, pop, and Yiddish songs. An 
offer to sing on a WMGM radio program starring Harry Hirschfield brought 
them to New York with their father. Gittie remembers the long train ride. It 
was Christmas Eve, and soldiers were traveling in the same car. She relates: 

My father got really upset that the boys were making eyes at the girls... 
so in the middle of the night he said, "The only thing you can do to keep 
the boys quiet is to sing." So we sang all the Christmas carols... to help the 
boys quiet down and go to sleep. 

The Malavsky Family Singers came into being around the Shabbat dinner 
table. It was there that they would spend hours singing zemirot, harmonizing 
with each other, and learning new pieces that Samuel composed. The children 
improvised natural harmonies and created a sound so impressive that it would 
attract the neighbors to come listen outside the open windows. During World 
War II the family received their first offer to sing the High Holiday services 
together, in San Francisco. This group performance was so successful that 
Samuel decided the family should move to New York where they would have 
more opportunities to capitalize on their collective talent. 

In New York, the Malavsky family gained fame and recognition. They trav- 
eled frequently, singing in concerts, leading services, and appearing on the 
radio. They were a unique phenomenon and were sought after in cities all over 
the United States and in Canada. As they drove thousands of miles in order 
to perform, the children would sing to prevent themselves from fighting in 

32 Malavsky Sisters' Interview with the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, 

the car! The cities where they enjoyed their biggest successes were Montreal, 
Quebec and Schenectady, New York. 

Despite all the accolades, the Malavskys also attracted a great deal of op- 
position. They usually had to daven in special High Holiday services set up 
in hotels because the girls were not allowed to sing in Orthodox synagogues. 
Even in these hotel services they encountered many problems. Samuel Ma- 
lavsky, however, viewed his daughters as children who loved to sing, and felt 
that they deserved to be heard. Goldie's sister, Ruth Malavsky, believes that 
her father would have been more famous and less controversial had he gone 
out on his own, but she adds that his family meant everything to him. 

The biggest trouble we had was with rabbis who had nothing better to do. 
They found somewhere in the Talmud that you shouldn't hear a woman's 
voice. They wouldn't let us into the shuls, and so we sang in hotels. And the 
rabbis who wouldn't let us into their shuls used to come and buy tickets 
to hear us. 

Hazzan Malavsky taught his daughters along with his sons because, he 
said, "I thought it was an example to show children that it was possible 
to be American — and to sing in Hebrew, too." He was appalled by the 
hypocrisy of many rabbis and by the way they mistreated his daughters. 
His frustration led him to publish a study in a Canadian newspaper about 
synagogue choirs that included girls disguised as boys in order to achieve 
a certain vocal sound. 
To the girls, rabbinic opposition felt like personal attacks. They had spent 
their entire lives learning to daven, learning prayers and compositions for 
Shabbat and every holiday, and some people wanted to forbid them from do- 
ing what they were raised to do, simply because they were girls. The Malavsky 
sisters remember an incident in which young Hasidim in the Crown Heights 
section of Brooklyn threw a stink bomb into the shul where the Malavsky 
family was singing. It was their mother, Harriet, who came to the rescue and 
restored order in the service. 

The Malavsky family appeared throughout the Catskill Mountains' Borscht 
Circuit hotels. They were frequent guests at the Concord and Grossinger 's, and 
always led the Passover sedarim at one of the hotels. Their concert programs 
were very diverse. They would all come out onto stage wearing cantorial robes, 

33 Malavsky Sisters' Interview with the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, 

34 Personal Interview with Ruth and Gittie Malavksy, 2005. 

35 Gardner, Sandra. New Jersey ans, New York Times, June 10, 1984. 

36 Personal Interview with Rabbi Morton Malavsky, 2005. 


prayer shawls, and skullcaps. Mi She-Osoh Nissim was the family's favorite 
song, and they used it as their opening number. This was followed by three or 
four additional liturgical pieces. Hazzan Samuel would then speak a bit. He 
had a wonderful rapport with his audiences. The family would then leave the 
stage, and Avreml, the oldest son, would deliver a few jokes. Apparently, he 
was so handsome that "all the women in the audience loved him." Following 
the comedy act, Gittie and Goldie would come back on stage, now in nice 
dresses, to perform as the Marlin Sisters. Finally, the rest of the family would 
return to conclude with a few group numbers. 

The Malavsky sisters all confirm that their father did not often sing solos 
without his choir, but that he would take the khazonishe parts of the liturgical 
numbers, and that they accompanied him by singing chords and harmoniz- 
ing on the responses. Goldie would take the famous "boy alto" solos. She 
garnered fame for some of these solos - namely, her Kevakoros and Havein 
Yakir Li. Ruthie joined Goldie in the alto section, Avreml and Morty were 
both baritones, and Menucha and Gittie sang soprano. Often, an alto solo 
taken by Goldie would lead into a soprano — alto duet. Gittie and Menucha, 
who both posessed lovely soprano voices, would alternate on the soprano 
solos. According to Gittie, if one squeezed the other's hand, that was a signal 
that she would take the high note. It was true teamwork! 

The Malavsky family made many recordings, reportedly more than any other 
Jewish family ensemble in the world. Their earliest recordings were put out 
on the Disk and Banner labels. Under the Tikva Records label, the Malavskys 
released The Passover Festival, produced by Allen B. Jacobs in 1959, Cantorial 
Masterworks and Songs My Mother Sang to Me. Other recordings include The 
Malavsky Family Sings Yiddish, Passover Seder Service, Hebrew Folk Songs, 
Pearls of Liturgical Masterpieces, Sabbath with the Malavsky Family, High 
Holiday Selections by the Malavsky Family, Holiday Prayers and Favorites of 
Cantors, which contains an Av Harahamim cantorial solo sung by Goldie. 
Beside the more secular recordings that Goldie and Gittie made as the Mar- 
lin Sisters, Goldie also released several cantorial singles. An advertisement 
from Metro Music Company lists Goldie Malavsky separately from Samuel 
Malavsky and Choir, and offers a special on three ten-inch records — Yehi 
Rotson, Zokhreinu LeHayim, and Ikh Benk Aheym — for the price of $3.98. 

37 The Malavsky Sisters' Interview with the Milken Archive of American Jewish 
Music, 1998. 

38 The Malavsky Family Story video, Israel Music, c. 1976. 

39 The Malavsky Sisters' Interview with the Milken Archive of American Jewish 
Music, 1998. 

The Malavsky children also worked in Yiddish Theater. This meant perfor- 
mances on Friday evenings and Saturday afternoons, and although Samuel 
and Harriet would not attend these performances, they let their children 
make their own decisions regarding religious observance and performing. 
Goldie and Gittie were regulars at the Clinton Street Theater. It was through 
the theater that they really learned how to speak Yiddish. 

Beginning in 1952, Samuel Malavsky set up tours in Israel for his family. 
As stated, the group was beloved there, receiving greater acceptance from 
Israel's religious community than from the one in America. 

The Malavsky family's performances slowed down as, one by one, the chil- 
dren married. Their spouses and in-laws did not want them to travel anymore, 
and it became more difficult to get the family together. The Malavsky name is 
still known and respected in the United States and in Israel. Many of Samuel 
Malavsky 's hazzanic settings - in the style of his mentor, Josef Rosenblatt 
— have become well known throughout the world, some of them attaining 
the status of synagogue standards. The Israeli army choir regularly sings his 
stirring melodies for Havein YakirLi and Kevakoros. Goldie's daughter once 
visited the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem. Upon learning of her presence, the 
cantor decided on the spot to do an entire Malavsky service with his male 
choir. The Malavsky family story never really ends, for they have kept Hazzan 
Samuel Malavsky 's music alive by passing it on to their children and grand- 
children, who continue to bear the legacy of the Malavsky Family Singers. 

Fraydele Oysher - Oy Iz Dos a Fraydele! (1913-2003) 

Blessed with a magnificent voice and always surrounded by an aura 
of religious music, Fraydele Oysher's rise in the Yiddish Theatre was 
meteoric, and soon she went on to become the foremost singing star of 
that genre... The name Fraydele Oysher has become synonymous with 
musical excitement. Be it liturgical chant, a theatre song, or a typical 
Yiddish folk song, the listeners have the feeling that they are hearing it 
for the first time. She has the unique gift of making each song she sings 
sound as if it were written expressly for Fraydele Oysher. 
Fraydele was eight years old when her family emigrated to America and settled 
in Philadelphia. Soon after their arrival, Zelig and Lillie Oysher discovered 
their daughter's singing talent. They were extremely excited by what they 

i Archive of American Jewish 


The Malav; 

iky Sisters 


r with the 



;ic, 1998. 


Civic Playh 

ouse progr 

am notes. 

heard, and began to find public arenas in which Fraydele could sing. She 
joined Mikhl Gelbart's choir at the Workmans' Circle, but that did not last 
long. Mikhl told her that her voice was too identifiable and could not blend 
in with the group. Instead, Mikhl chose to work with Fraydele privately on 
singing Yiddish folk songs. 

Fraydele was soon singing her folk songs on the major Jewish radio sta- 
tions in Philadelphia: WCAU; WFAN; and WREX. The first song Fraydele 
sang in public was Secunda's A Mameh Iz Di Beste Fraynd (A Mother is the 
Best Friend). Her first job was a performance for the Roumanian Hebrew 
Beneficial Association. Fraydele sang alongside her father in his synagogue 
choir, often joining him in duets and trios. 

Meanwhile, Fraydele's older brother Moishe was rapidly making a name 
for himself, landing roles in the Yiddish Theater at the age of sixteen. Fol- 
lowing his idol, Boris Tomashefsky, Moishe moved to New York to pursue a 
theatrical career. When Fraydele turned fifteen, Moishe brought her to New 
York to sing in a theatrical performance. Fraydele, who adored her brother 
and wanted to imitate everything that he did, decided that New York was the 
place for her, and she never returned to Philadelphia. 

In a video interview with the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, 
Fraydele remembers some of her early performances. She sang at Brooklyn's 
Amphion Theatre alongside Sheindele the Khaznte, and was paid the non- 
union scale of eighteen dollars. In the 1930s Fraydele busied herself by singing 
three radio shows a day. Stations WLTH, WEVD and WMCA each hired her 
for fifty minute segments. Jan Peerce — already a big star — was paid $7.50 
in those Depression years, and Fraydele received $5. She was sponsored by 
Margareten Matzos, and at Passover time, would receive more matzah than 
could possibly be eaten! 

In 1935 Fraydele married Harold Sternberg, who would become her lifelong 
partner and musical collaborator. Harold was a son of the legendary Yossel 
Bass of Bessarabia. As a boy soprano, Yossel was "stolen" — at first by Cantor 
Zeydl Rovner and later by Cantor Nisi Belzer — to sing in their choirs and 
read Torah for them. As an adult, the soprano turned bass performed as a 
cantor throughout Europe with his talented family as his choir. 

His son Harold was born in Odessa, and met Moishe Oysher — a boy alto 
at the time — while the two of them sang in his father's choir. Yossel Bass 
came to America in 1923, followed by Harold in 1927 and Harold's mother in 

42 Oysher / Sternberg Interview with the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, 
May 31, 1995. 

1929. Although Harold could have become a cantor like his father, he chose 
the theater. He distinguished himself as a fine basso profundo and performed 
in Gershwin musicals, in Kurt Weill's 1935 pageant The Eternal Road, and 
enjoyed a career in the Metropolitan Opera Chorus for forty years. He also 
served as a coach to Fraydele, who did not read music and learned everything 
by ear. Harold had a talent for languages and was recognized as the first singer 
to memorize three hundred operas! 

In 1936, when Moishe Oysher could not earn a living wage through theater 
work, Harold's older brother Shammai convinced him that hazzanut was the 
way to go. According to Fraydele, Moishe's "heart was in the theater, while his 
soul was in the synagogue," and his life presented him with constant struggles 
between the two. His first experience officiating at the Roumanishe Shul in 
Manhattan's Lower East Side was met with shouts of an aktyor zol davnen 
in a shul (the very thought of an actor davening in a synagogue!). Despite the 
opposition, Moishe came to be known in both the world of theater and the 
synagogue world as one of the greatest. 

Throughout their lives, Fraydele, Moishe and Harold remained very close. 
Fraydele lovingly described her brother as "my hero, my friend, my every- 

Fraydele's career brought her to communities all over the United States, 
Canada and South America. She took the world of Yiddish Theater by storm 
with her talent, her unique cantorial abilities, and her amazing energy and 
personality. She became widely famous even before her brother because she 
was doing something so unusual for a woman. 

In theater, Fraydele specialized in playing a yeshiva boy who, only in the 
last scene of the play, would reveal that she was in fact a woman. In Fraydele's 
own words, "I was cute, I was flat and I was a terrific piece of work." Many 
Yiddish plays were written for her: Fraydeles Khaseneh (Fraydele's Wed- 
ding) by Louis Freiman; Dos Khelemer Khazndl (The Cantor of Chelm) and 
Dem Khazns Tokhter (The Cantor's Daughter) by Morris Nestor; Nebekh a 
Yesoymele (Poor Orphan) by YaakovBergrin; GoldeneMeydele (Golden Girl, 
later known as A Khazndl OyfShabes and A Khazndl OyfYontif) by Avraham 

43 Michaels, Marilyn, liner notes to The Oysher Heritage (MEW Productions, 

44 Oysher/Sternberg Interview with the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, 

45 Interview with The Daily News, 1996. 


Blum; A Khazn Kimt in Shtot (A Cantor Comes to Town); Freydele iz nit keyn 

Meydele (Freydele is not a Girl); and Mazl Tov Fray dele. 

Beside the yeshiva boy role, Fraydele often played the daughter or wife of a 

cantor. The fact that Fraydele could sing a cantorial number on stage set her 

apart, and in every play, she had the opportunity to sing cantorial pieces. 
A review of Fray 'dele's Khasene states: 

Veynik Yidishe piesn hobn azelkhefayne, tsikhtike un lirishe muzikalishe 
numern vi di komedye "Frey deles Khasene" un in zingen iz takehfaran dos 
bestefun Freydele... iberhoypt tsu khazonish, vos zi hotfun dos ongezungen 
on a shiur, un gezungen vi an emeseh khaznte oder vi a khazn, punkt vi zi 
voltbaym omud geshtanen. 

Few Yiddish plays have such fine, neat and lyrical musical numbers as the 
comedy Fraydele's Wedding, and in singing, it is really Fraydele's best- 
mainly in hazzanut, of which she sang a tremendous amount, and sang like 
a true khaznte, or like a hazzan, just as if she were at the prayer stand. 

Fraydele's archives, now housed in YIVO, contain programs from perfor- 
mances throughout her life. In 1936 Fraydele and Harold took their first trip 
south of the border, visiting Buenos Aires and Cuba. In Buenos Aires, Fraydele 
played the role of young Yitzkhok in Avraham Goldfaden's Akeydes Yitzkhok, 
and also performed in Boris Tomashefsky's play Bar Mitsveh. When she saw 
the poverty of the Jews in Cuba, Fraydele decided to give her concert gratis, 
to an extremely appreciative audience. 

In 1945 Fraydele was performing in the moderately successful show, The 
Little Queen, in Chicago. Hearing that her father had taken ill, she wanted to 
go home. Mary Martin, who happened to be playing in the show next door, 
convinced Fraydele that if she wanted to be a true performer, she should not 
leave. She stayed, and throughout her life, never left a show. She even went 
on stage pregnant. Here is Seymour Rechtzeit, in an interview about the play 
The Khazente, by Joseph Rumshinksy: 

When Fraydele Oysher appeared in that show she was dressed in the garb 
of a young male hazzan. This also concealed the fact that she was quite 
pregnant. In the midst of one of her cantorial selections she had gone into 
labor pains and was compelled to announce that "The hazzan is about to 
give birth!" 
In 1947 Fraydele performed for the Bessarabian Society of Baltimore. Her 
first Canadian appearance took place in 1948 at the Mt. Royal Theatre in 

46 Rozhansky, in Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre, 1969. 

47 Komansky, Samuel, The Jewish Week — American Examiner: Oct. 12, ] 

Montreal. Undated programs show New York appearances in the Amphion 
Theatre, Lyric Theatre, Playhouse Theatre, Erlanger Theatre and the Bronx Art 
Theater, in Der Khelemer Khazndl. A concert program from Town Hall lists 
Fraydele among other famous performers such as Molly Picon, Zvi Scooler, 
Miriam Kressyn, Seymour Rechtzeit, Hazzan Moshe Stern, Hazzan Charles 
Bloch, and comedian Jackie Mason. 

Out of town engagements included performances in: Worcester, Massa- 
chusetts; the Philadelphia Yiddish Art Theatre; Miami Beach, Florida; Con- 
gregation Ahavas Israel of Grand Rapids, Michigan (where she is advertised 
as "the greatest living American khaznte"); California at the Civic Playhouse 
(in A Khazndl OyfShabbes); and Chicago's Civic Theatre and Douglass Park 
Theatre. Fraydele was particularly close with Oscar Ostroff, director of the 
Douglass Park Theatre. Their partnership led to many successful Chicago 
engagements, and Fraydele's archives contain many of Ostroff 's warm let- 
ters to her. Fraydele had the opportunity to sing in South Africa during the 
Apartheid era, but she refused to sing in a concert where the audience would 
be segregated. Because the concert bureau would not make provisions for 
blacks to attend, Fraydele refused to perform. 

Fraydele and Harold both worked with all the well known Jewish musicians 
of the time. According to them, Alexander Olshanetsky had "soul and fire" as 
a conductor. Joseph Rumshinksy had "easy hands." Sholom Secunda, however, 
was the best conductor. He "felt the pulse of a singer," could transpose on the 
spot, and had a folkloristic streak. Fraydele and Harold loved Hazzan Yossele 
Rosenblatt — "a sweet, dear man and a great musician." Fraydele's archives 
show that she and Harold also socialized with Molly Picon, and were even 
invited to her eighty-fifth birthday celebration! 

Fraydele had a regular radio program, but because Harold felt that record- 
ings might cause people to stop listening to her radio segments and attending 
her performances, Fraydele did not record many pieces professionally. In 
the late 1940s she recorded four sides on ten-inch 78 rpms for the Banner 
records label. Abraham Ellstein accompanied Fraydele's Eilu Devorim by Ja- 
cob Rapoport, Ribono Shel Olam for Sefiroh by Harold Sternberg, Oshamnu 
Mikol Om by David Roitman and Havein YakirLi and Sh'ma Yisroel by Yossele 
Rosenblatt. In 1960, Songs My Brother Moishe Sang was released on Tikva 
Records by Fraydele and her daughter Marilyn Michaels, followed by the 
album Yiddishe Neshomeh on Menorah Records. 

48 Oysher / Sternberg Interview with the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, 

49 Personal Interview with Barry Serota, 2005. 

When asked why she did not appear in any films, Fraydele related that 
she was supposed to make a film of The Cantor's Daughter right before the 
Second World War, but fighting broke out and changed the plans. After the 
war, the audience for Yiddish films had diminished and very few were being 
made. When she was finally approached to do a film, she was pregnant and 
could not participate. Harold, who acted as Fraydele's personal composer 
and coach, must have thought that Fraydele needed to be in a film, for in her 
archives is a scene-by-scene description of Harold's idea of a suitable storyline 
for her. The title is Oy Iz Dos A Freydele, and the plot is typical. Right before 
Selihpt services, the cantor is involved in an accident. The congregation and 
choir, already in place for the service, panics — until Fraydele, the cantor's 
daughter — enters disguised as a boy. All goes well until Jack, her love inter- 
est / agent, calls in reporters. The congregants are opposed to the reporters 
in the synagogue and do not understand what is happening. Fraydele takes 
off her disguise and says that she can no longer pretend, she is not in fact a 
hazzan; she is Fraydele, the hazzan's daughter. 

There is an uproar in the synagogue. How could this girl have the nerve to 
stand on the bimah and daven as if she were a hazzan? The rabbi takes pity and 
asks that God be merciful to the girl for her sin. Fraydele leaves the synagogue. 
Due to the publicity, she has risen to fame. She becomes successful as a radio 
singer and performer and all ends well between Fraydele and Jack. 

Harold's film idea was never brought to fruition. The structure of the story, 
however, shows all the typical elements of the plays written specifically for 
Fraydele: the opportunity to sing hazzanut; fooling everyone into thinking 
she was a boy and then revealing her true self; and the pursuit of fame and 
of a love interest. 
Conclusion and Evolution 

Who was the first woman cantor? Each of the khazntes claimed that distinc- 
tion. Sophie was certainly the earliest to record, in 1924, and she presumably 
had to have made a name for herself before then. Fraydele, born in 1913, also 
began her career in the 1920s when she sang on the radio as a child. Bas Sheva 
and Goldie, both born in the early 1920s, sang with their fathers when they 
were as young as four years old. Sheindele may have been the first to actually 
lead services, in the 1940s. 

These six were not the only women who attempted to sing cantorial music, 
but they were the ones who became famous for doing so. As early as the 1930s 

50 Fraydele's Archives at YIVO. 

we find references to Betty Simanoffsinging "cantorial things" on the radio. 
Liviya Taychil appeared twice weekly on WHOM under the pseudonym Di 
Odesser Khaznte, and Ms. Sabina Kurtzweil performed on WCNW as Di 
Berliner Khaznte. Radio logs even contain a listing for "Goldie Mae Stiner 
— the world's only colored lady cantor." In the 1940s, Bobby Miller sang 
under choral conductor Oscar Julius at Temple Beth El, an Orthodox Mecca 
of hazzanut in the Borough Park section of Brooklyn. She disguised herself as 
a boy in order to sing with the all-male choir for the High Holidays. Members 
of that choir recount how Bobby would bind her chest, put her hair up into 
her hat, and sing alongside the men for many High Holiday seasons until her 
charade was discovered. Another popular female singer of Jewish music, 
Mimi Sloan, occasionally included a liturgical piece in her repertoire. 

When Betty Robbins became the first woman cantor to occupy a Reform 
pulpit in 1955, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New 
York did not yet officially admit women into its School of Sacred Music. It 
wasn't until twenty years later that the first Reform woman cantor was invested 
by that institution. 57 The Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary's Can- 
tors Institute, now the H.L. Miller Cantorial School, first granted women the 
diploma of Hazzan in 1987. 5S It was not until 1991 that women were admitted 
into the Cantors Assembly (the professional organization for Conservative 
cantors). 59 

These decisions to admit women into the cantorate were brought about by 
societal changes. The movement away from the male clergy model as dictated 
by tradition was a natural occurrence in an increasingly egalitarian society. 
Today, the women who graduate from cantorial programs in accredited in- 
stitutions of higher Jewish learning are free to sing sacred music as women, 
not in imitation of men, in any octave they choose. For these reasons there is 
no direct relation between the khazntes' careers and the formal recognition 
of women cantors in the liberal branches of American Judaism. 

51 Der Tog, October, 1928. 

52 Kelman, Ari, Station Identification: The Culture of Yiddish Radio in New York: 
New York University, 2003. 

53 Personal Interview with Henry Sapoznik, 2005. 

54 Personal Interview with Barry Serota, 2005. 

55 Personal Interviews with Mimi Sloan, 2005. 

56 "Woman Named Cantor in New York," Chicago Daily Tribune, August 3, 1955. 

57 "The New Cantor," Reform Judaism: Winter 2003. 

58 Cantors Assembly SO Years Jubilee Journal, 1998, p. 368. 

59 Ibid. pp. 370-371. 


However, it is clear from the khazntes' reviews and advertisements that 
their singing caused many people to take notice and to think about the issue 
of women cantors. Their audiences evidently marveled at the sound they 
produced — a sound that was molded as a direct imitation of male cantors. 
From an entertainment perspective, the khazntes were novelty acts. From a 
religious perspective, the fact that these women were singing liturgical texts 
in the style of hazzanut — whether on the stage or on the bimah — challenged 
certain sensibilities. 

Who was the first woman cantor? They were all firsts — Sophie, Bas Sheva, 
Sheindele, Perele, Goldie, and Fraydele. Each one of these women's voices was 
the first woman's voice that many people heard singing hazzanut on the radio. 
Each of these women's faces was the first woman's face that many observed on 
the bimah of a synagogue. Each of these women's performances caused many 
minds to entertain the thought of women as cantors for the very first time. 

Long before women could even dream of the actuality of becoming can- 
tors, long before cantorial schools of any denomination even considered 
accepting women, long before women's voices were heard on a bimah, there 
were a few special women who challenged the strictures of tradition and 
dared to dream. 

Arianne Brown, a recent graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary's H.L. 
Miller Cantorial School, serves as cantor at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. She 
has performed regularly with the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre in Manhattan 
and directs the musical trio, Ashira. Researching the khazntes for her 2006 
Master's thesis, from which this article derives, was a true labor of love. 

Kol Ishah — An Analysis of the "Khazntes" 

by Hay ley Kobilinsky Poser ow 

Who They Were 

In the early- to-mid 20 th century in America, several observant Jewish women, 
independently of each other, embarked on an unusual journey. These women, 
all with great respect for the tradition and gifted with unique voices, began to 
record and perform Jewish liturgical music publicly. Some were descended 
from generations of cantors, others from generations of Yiddish theater 
performers. All became expert purveyors of the cantorial style of the time, 
singing lengthy, ornamented, complicated liturgical compositions known 
as recitatives. (Unlike an operatic recitative, which is the "speaking" sort of 
music that advances the story and connects larger arias and ensemble pieces, 
a cantorial recitative is akin to the operatic "aria." The "speaking" function 
might be described in cantorial terms as laymen's "davening") It was unusual 
enough for women to be performing in early-20 th -century America, especially 
for observant Jewish women to do so, but it was a concept wholly foreign to 
Jewish practice in all its manifestations for women to sing liturgical music. 
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of these women's singing was their vocal 
production; since cantorial music — or hazzanut — was heard at the time as 
sung exclusively by men, these women manipulated their voices and vocal 
technique to sound like men. None of them hid their female identities, but 
from listening to their recordings it would be difficult to determine whether 
the prayers were being chanted by male or female cantors . The women usually 
performed with some sort of nickname or stage name, often a Yiddish name 
with added "diminutive" (or "little") and "beloved" (or "dear") endings (e.g., 
Sheinde becomes Sheindel (diminutive "little" Sheinde) and then Sheindele 
(iminutive "beloved" Sheindele). Similarly, Frayde becomes Fraydel and then 
Fraydele. Some of them added the qualifier die khaznte, from the Yiddish 
pronunciation of the Hebrew hazzan: khazn — or "cantor." Die Khaznte, in- 
tended to signify "the woman cantor," literally meant "the cantor's wife." The 
term Khaznte resulted from a Yiddish feminization of an otherwise mascu- 
line-connoting term. The term Khazntes soon became a way to refer to the 
entire group of women who sang such material at that time, and although 
some of them never personally used the term and others rejected it entirely, 
it remains their common appellation. 

The Khazntes gained popularity for their performances of hazzanut on 
recordings, but also in concert, on the radio, and occasionally on film and 
television. They performed in cities with major Jewish populations, including 
but not limited to New York, Philadelphia and Chicago, throughout Canada 
and various South American cities. They might have become prominent can- 
tors in synagogues, were it not for the restrictions that halakhah (Jewish law) 
places on hearing a woman's voice in prayer. The Khazntes were thus unable 
to function as sh'lihei tsibbur (designated representatives of the congregation 
in prayer). Even the most liberal congregations at the time would not accept 
a woman as sh'liah tsibbur, and not until 1975 was the first female cantor 
invested by Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion, seminary of 
the Reform movement, and not until 1987 was the diploma of hazzan granted 
to women by the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary. As a 
result of halakhic restrictions the only synagogue appearances of the Khazntes 
were in concert and as entertainers at bar mitzvah and wedding receptions. 
Two of the Khazntes also sang at Passover seders in resort hotels and one sang 
during High Holy Day services alongside a male cantor (thus ensuring that 
the prayers be deemed halakhically acceptable to the worshipers, who must 
not have been observant Orthodox Jews due to their tolerance of a man's and 
woman's voice being commingled at the prayer lectern). 

With the fading of the period known as the Golden Age of the Cantorate 
(approximatelyl900-1940), during which time hazzanut was considered en 
vogue and cantorial concerts drew large audiences, and with the subsequent 
decline of Yiddish-speakers after the Holocaust, the Khazntes' careers slowly 
tapered off. While some continued performing into the 1990s, their novelty 
had passed by the 1970s. When women officially entered the cantorate in the 
mid-1970s, the notion of Khazntes became obsolete. 

The Khazntes represent an element of Jewish musical history barely touched 
upon in existing research. Although the early Khazntes are mentioned fleet- 
ingly in many descriptions of Jewish women and liturgical music throughout 
history, they have been largely shunted aside in favor of more established areas 
of Jewish culture, e.g. Yiddish theater and radio. Perhaps they have merited 
so little attention in histories of women and music because other women as- 
sumed more prominent roles on the Yiddish stage, and male cantors of the 
day gained more fame singing in concerts, on radio, and as sh'lihei tsibbur. 
Until the appearance of this 2007 Journal of Synagogue Music issue the most 
that has been written on the subject of Khazntes is a paragraph or two in or 
encyclopedia entries about related topics, such as "women in music" or "Yid- 

dish radio" or "Yiddish theater," but nothing has been written about women 
during the American cantorate's Golden Age. 

Research on female sh'lihei tsibbur reveals instances of women function- 
ing as leaders of congregations of other women at isolated points in history, 
as well as one notable instance of a congregation in New York — Temple 
Avodah — that engaged a woman, Betty Robbins, as cantor in 1955, twenty 
years before female cantors were first invested. 1 While the Khazntes may not 
have played pivotal roles in history, changed the face of Judaism or created a 
new group of empowered female prayer leaders, their success and popular- 
ity reveal a great deal about the time period, and their place in Jewish music 
history merits study. 

Outside of two personal archives (Sheindele, a.k.a. Jean Gornish, and 
Fraydele Oysher) and scattered newspaper clippings, the only sources of 
detailed information about the Khazntes are surviving relatives as well as 
surviving recordings that demonstrate their art. To understand the phenom- 
enon of the Khazntes one must consider the historical, religious and artistic 
contexts of the time — including the period known as the Golden Age of the 
Cantorate — the received halakhah, women on the Yiddish stage, and female 
prayer leaders prior to 1975. One must then analyze the phenomenon from 
a number of perspectives, including tracing its evolution from the 1920s to 
the 1970s, discussing acceptance and rejection by their families as well as the 
public, comparing their careers, highlighting matters of gender identity, of 
effects on women performers, on society in general, and finally, evaluating 
the lasting impact of their work. 

The Cantorate's Heyday in America 

Growing out of the Eastern European Ashkenazi musical tradition, virtuoso 
hazzanut with its elaborate vocal embellishments grew quickly in popularity, 
thanks in part to the ease of distributing recordings and in part to the practice 
of traveling cantors. Much like today, synagogues in the 1800s might engage 
cantors to serve their pulpit for a fixed period of time, but prominent cantors 
were in high demand and would go where they could earn a better living. 
For some congregations, there was not enough money to engage a cantor 
or even a rabbi on a regular basis. For others, there was far more prestige 
(which translated into significant contributions from affluent members) for 

1 Sandra Robbins, "Robbins, Betty," Jewish Women in America: An Historical En- 
cyclopedia, ed. Paula E. Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore, (New York: Routledge), 

both synagogue and cantor to hire whoever was most popular at the time. 
Thus the cantor would travel vast distances week-to-week for his next engage- 
ment, which would easily earn him a small fortune. One renowned cantor 
with extensive musical, linguistic and religious training from Odessa, Pinchas 
Minkowsky, was given a five-year $5,000 per year contract from Congrega- 
tion K'hal Adath Jeshurun on Eldridge Street on the Lower East Side of New 
York City. Considering that their rabbi made $100 per year at the time and 
that the average worker brought home $600 per year, 2 the cantor was clearly 
considered both an inspiration to the congregants and a status symbol. 

During the tail end of the 19 th century in America and through World War 
I, hazzanut held its audience. As the public became more and more eager to 
hear the music both in prayer and in concert, more cantors arose to fill the 
void. The demand being high, a notable cantor could set the ground rules for 
his performance, including compensation, mode of transportation, length of 
tour and desirable billing. 3 Cantors recited prayers with a wide array of vocal 
effects designed to color the words and add emotion to their delivery. These 
effects might include repetition of a particular word or phrase, difficult runs 
of arpeggios and coloratura, and dramatic use of dynamics ranging from 
a thunderous forte to a pianissimo falsetto that tapered into near-silence. 
Familiar themes might be worked into a recitative, whether biblical motif, 
folk tune, or hint of opera. 4 Additionally, much like classical music today, the 
focus was not only on new compositions, but also on a particular cantor's 
rendition of favorite pieces of the day, the titles of which might be called out 
loud by an adoring audience. Thus a cantor singing in concert or on a Sab- 
bath brought not only religious enlightenment but also entertainment to a 
particular group of people interested in exploring their culture's musical 
tradition, especially those who might not have been able to afford concert 
going and who went instead to synagogue. A combination of high cantorial 
artistry and the public interest that supported it led to the later dubbing of 
that epoch as the Golden Age of the Cantorate. 

2 United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, "National Historic 
Landmark Nomination," found at 
ny/eldridge/pdf on the Internet; page 24. 

3 Mark Slobin, Chosen Voices: The Story of the American Cantorate (Urbana, IL: 
University of Illinois Press), 1989: 60. 

4 Irene Heskes, "The Golden Age of Cantorial Artistry," The Golden Age of Cantors: 
Musical Masterpieces of the Synagogue, ed. Velvel Pasternak and Noah Schall (New 
York: Tara Publications), 1991: 7-8. 

Kol Ishah 

Halakhah does not just affect its adherents while they're in the synagogue as 
observant Jews governed by its tenets. From what one eats to how one dresses, 
halakhah provides specific instructions. The observant Jewish woman, in 
particular, must be constantly aware of certain restrictions dealing with food 
preparation and modesty, but is exempt from many time-bound positive com- 
mandments such as daily prayer; dealing with family and home is traditionally 
considered to be her prime responsibility. To properly describe the halakhic 
context in which the Khazntes lived, one must investigate two issues: kol ishah 
(a woman's voice); and the notion of a woman as sh'liah tsibbur. 

Kol Ishah is the term by which one refers to the laws dealing with men 
hearing a woman's voice. The restrictions stem from a section of Talmud 
stating that one should not hear a woman's voice when reciting the Sh'ma. 
In the Babylonian Talmud, tractate B'rakhot, 24a, there is a discussion of the 
conditions under which a man may or may not recite the Sh'ma in bed. Vari- 
ous opinions are given, depending upon who is present (a wife or children), 
if there is physical contact with the wife, and/or the ages of the children. The 
discussion then turns to women's garb, and what states of undress would 
create sexual arousement, and thus be considered unacceptable times for a 
man's prayer. One example given is kol b'ishah ervah, or: "in a woman, the 
voice alone is nakedness /sexual incitement." 

The noun ervah (nakedness) comes from the same root (Ayin-Resh-Vav) 
as the adjective eirom (naked), as were Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: 
"The two of them were naked. .. yet they felt no shame." 5 While the two terms 
are translated alike, they have different connotations: eirom means physical 
nakedness but has no sexual connotations; while ervah means naked with 
a connotation of sexual relations that are often taboo. 6 The term ervah ap- 
pears repeatedly in Leviticus Chapter 18, in the context of various prohibited 
sexual relations. Therefore, the Talmudic dictum kol b'ishah ervah imparts 
a taboo sexual connotation to the voice of a woman, the term ervah being 
instantly recognizable to one familiar with the list of Canaanite abominations 
in Leviticus. 

The discussion in BT B'rakhot 24a on kol b'ishah ervah cites from Song of 
Solomon 2: 14, "Let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet and your face 
is comely." Other examples given include an exposed leg, quoting from Isaiah 

5 Genesis 3: 1; all translations are from the JPS Tanakh, Second Edition (2000). 

6 Rachel Biale, Women & Jewish Law: An Exploration of Women's Issues in Halachic 
Sources (New York: Schocken), 1984: 177. 

47: 2, "Strip off your train, bare your leg, wade through the rivers. ..your na- 
kedness shall be uncovered, and your shame shall be exposed," and a woman's 
hair, quoting from Song of Solomon 4: 1, describing a beautiful woman while 
using an animal metaphor, "your hair is like a flock of goats." 

Rabbis broadened the law to incorp orate any instance of hearing a woman's 
singing voice. Traditional Judaism viewed both men and women's sexual 
desires to be equal, but considered women to have the ability to act as tempt- 
resses, particularly through use of their voices, and thus restrictions were 
placed in various realms: e.g. for modesty and as not to attract the attention 
of other men, married women's hair should be covered in public. 7 This was 
part of the reason why women could not serve as sh'lihei tsibbur; their voices 
would tempt men's sexual desires and thus distract them from their prayer, 
". . .for the voice of a woman leads to lewdness . . ." 8 . Restrictions such as ensur- 
ing one's modesty through mode of dress, hair covering, or quieting one's 
voice place the burden of taming the male potential of impropriety squarely 
upon women. The concept of separate seating in synagogues was used as an 
additional safeguard to prevent the distraction of men from their prayers by 
the sight of a woman or the sound of her voice, though women had still been 
allowed to conduct their own separate worship services in Germany as late 
as the 13 th century, led by a zogerin. 9 

As men were halakhically obligated to pray three times a day but women 
were largely exempt from time-bound positive commandments, the same 
restrictions did not apply to men. If a man's voice distracted a woman from 
her prayer, it was not deleterious, since the woman was not obligated to say 
the prayer in the first place. Furthermore, according to halakhah, only one 
who must fulfill the obligation of saying a prayer is permitted to recite that 
prayer on behalf of a congregation. Hence the traditional symbolism of call- 
ing up a boy of Bar Mitzvah age to read from the Torah. More importantly, 
when the Bar Mitzvah recites the blessing over the Torah, he is serving as 
"prayer leader," i.e., commanding the congregation to say the prayer by using 
the imperative tsivui form of "to bless": 'Bless Adonai!' That acceptance of the 
role oish'U'ah tsibbur — however fleeting — marks the child's entrance into 
adulthood and his assumption of an adult's prayer responsibilities. Contrarily, 

7 Susan Weidman Schneider. Jewish and Female: Choices and Changes in Our Lives 
Today (New York: Simon and Schuster), 1984: 67. 

8 C. Baum, P. Hyman, S. Michel. The Jewish Woman in America (New York": the 
Dial press), 1976: 10. 

9 Also referred to asforzogerin, verzogerin, orzogerke; Israel Abrahams. Jewish Life 
in the Middle Ages (New York: Meridian Books), 1960: 25. 


a woman — who is not obligated to say prayers — is considered unacceptable 
to serve as prayer-leader, even momentarily, according to halakhah. 10 

However, this generalization is subject to various interpretations. For 
example, though women are generally considered exempt from the time- 
bound commandment to hear the Torah being read, other authorities state 
that women are in fact obligated to hear the Torah reading, based upon a 
passage in Deuteronomy (31: 12), 

Gather the people — men, women, children... that they may hear and so 
learn to revere the Lord your God and to observe faithfully every word 
of this Teaching. 
If women are considered obligated to fulfill this commandment, then they 
should logically be permitted to read from the Torah (assuming there is no 
issue of kol ishah or another issue that would prevent a woman from touching 
the Torah scroll; one such issue would be menstruation, during which period 
a woman is considered a niddah — excluded, or unclean). 11 

Forbidden to sing lest they be overheard, women were (and still are in 
certain Orthodox communities) often isolated from elements of both daily 
and religious life. 12 Not until the 1970s did the Reform movement ordain its 
first female rabbi and invest its first female cantor, and not until a decade 
later did the Conservative movement follow suit. Reform had long consid- 
ered much of the halakhah outdated for modern life, and had accordingly 
created new rituals and adapted old ones to include women — Confirmation 
over 100 years ago and Bat Mitzvah some 50 years ago. It took a bit longer 
for egalitarian practice to overtake Reform's mother institution, the Hebrew 
Union College, where women were finally allowed to function as clergy only 
a generation ago. The Khazntes, however, were part of the observant Jewish 
world, and had no hope of becoming congregational cantors. 

Women on the Yiddish and Vaudeville Stages 

The institution of Yiddish theater was first to permit women to appear onstage, 
thereby removing the stigma of their performing in public. This stigma did 
not pertain solely to Jewish culture, but enjoyed a long history in European 
and American theater. As far back as Classical Greek theater and stretching 
forward in time to Tudor England, men were preferred to women for playing 

10 BT Rosh HaShanah 30a; Menahot 43a. 

11 Biale, Women, 1984:24. 

12 Charlotte Baum, Paula Hyman & Sonya Michel. The Jewish Woman in America 
(New York The Dial Press), 1976: 10. 


female roles onstage. This convention may have had its roots in the tradition 
of Athenian performance; it was really a religious ceremony, not surprisingly, 
dominated by the men who subsidized it. 13 Even after women slowly became 
part of theater companies in certain parts of Europe, audiences were not 
amenable. In 1629 a French touring company brought female performers to 
England, where they were termed "monsters" and hissed offstage. 14 Before the 
Revolution of 1789 French theater women were threatened with excommuni- 
cation by the Catholic Church, which deemed women performers sinful and 
immoral. The theater women also inspired philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau 
to write missives opposing the influence of women on the art of theater. 15 A 
budding Yiddish theater at that time had similar constraints imposed upon 
it, but was ensconced in insular Jewish communities and followed a course 
of development independent to that of European theater. 

The Yiddish light opera troupe founded by Jacob Dessauer in Amsterdam, 
1784, included several women actors, reports Marion Aptroot, a professor 
of Yiddish Literature at Heinrich Heine University in Duesseldorf. 16 She 
cites historian Hetty Berg of the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam 
as proof. 

Women really played and sang on stage. That is well documented They 
also did so in private performances. Both can also be gleaned from the 
contemporary parodies of theater playbills and performances, as can 
be found in the "Diskursn," polemical pamphlets that were published in 
Amsterdam in the late 18 th century. 17 

13 Author unknown, "A Guide to Ancient Greek Theatre," found at http://anarchon. on the Internet. 

14 Martha Fletcher Bellinger, "Elizabethan Playhouses, Actors, and Audiences," A 
Short History of the Theatre (1927), pp. 207-13. Found at http://www.theatrehistory. 

15 L. Clark, "Daughters of Eve: A Cultural History of French Theater Women from the 
Old Regime to the Fin de Siecle- Book Review" Journal of Social History, Winter, 2003; 
found at http;// m2005/is 2 37/ai 111897859 on 
the Internet. 

16 Marion Aptroot, "Eikhels' 'Colleagues,': About Yiddish Comedy Around 1800," 
Forverts, Dec. 29, 2006. 

17 Hetty Berg, "Jiddisch theater in Amsterdam in de achttiende eeuw," Studia Rosen- 
thaliana 26, 1-2, 1992:10-37; "Thalia and Amsterdam's Ashkenazi Jews in the late 18 th 
and early 19 th centuries," Jonathan Israel & Reinier Salverda, eds., Dutch Jewry I, His- 
tory and Secular Culture, 1500-2000 (Leiden: Brill), 2000: 191-199. The Berg quote 
appears in Joseph Michman and Marion Aptroot, eds., Storm in the Community: 

Needless to add that Yiddish theater in late-18 th century Amsterdam repre- 
sented a small secular phenomenon in a largely Orthodox environment. 

In the late 19 th century, Yiddish theater reached the United States, where 
women had been performing onstage since the late 18 th century. The rapidly 
assimilating audiences of Yiddish theater were certainly affected by Ameri- 
can culture, and political issues of the day played out on the Yiddish stage, 
including those regarding women's position in society 18 

The roots of Yiddish theater lay in European Purim shpiels (plays) that 
were first presented in the 16 th century and developed throughout the 17 th 
and 18 th centuries. As the Purim season lasted a short time, performers in the 
troupes that formed to tour communities giving shpiels at Purim time could 
not subsist on acting, and worked in other trades the remainder of the year. 
The plays were generally accepted in the unconventional spirit of hilarity and 
spoof that surrounded Purim, but some strictly Orthodox Jews objected to 
the raucous nature of the performances. It was, of course, considered im- 
modest for a woman to sing, and even more so to perform on stage; instead, 
men would play female characters. That, too, countermanded halakhah, for 
according to the Torah, men were forbidden to dress in women's clothing. 19 
Evidently, on Purim that particular restriction was dropped. Nevertheless, a 
few professional troupes in Yiddish-speaking 18 th "century Europe included 
female members, and certain of these female singers, clowns or dancers did 
appear onstage. Fortunately, they were not considered actors, nor were they 
assigned specific characters in the official shpiel. Due to a lack of "acceptable 
material" (only Biblical stories were presented), an absence of community sup- 
port and out of respect for Yiddish as an "artistic" language, it was not until 
the 19 th century that Yiddish theater emerged as a respectable art form. 20 

Indeed, with the rise of secular education for Jews and the development 
of the scientific study of Judaism, Yiddish theater finally entered the realm 
of what was considered "acceptable," and experienced its period of greatest 
growth. New plays were written, with new themes (e.g. love stories and folk 
tales), and writing for the theater became a more popular pursuit. A fresh 
breeze of intellectual independence had blown over the Jews of Central and 

Yiddish Polemical Pamphlets of Amsterdam Jewry, 1797-1798 (Cincinnati: Hebrew 
Union College Press), 2002. 

18 Gerald Sorin. The Jewish People in America: A Time for Building: The Third 
Migration 1880-1920 (Baltimore: the Johns Hopkins University Press), 1992: 101. 

19 Deuteronomy 22: 5. 

20 Nahma Sandrow, "Purim Plays," Vagabond Stars: A World History of Yiddish 
Theater (New York: harper and Row), 1977: 18-20. 

Eastern Europe throughout the 19 th century: the Haskalah, or Enlightenment. 
The question of what a woman's role should be, both in general and in Jewish 
society, became an important issue for Haskalah writers. Regardless of the 
new strides being made towards modernity, women's theater roles were still 
played by men until approximately 1877. At that time, Avrom Goldfadn, the 
self-dubbed "Father of Yiddish Theater," insisted that women play the female 
roles he wrote. 

Several leading women were already active in Yiddish theater by 1877. One 
of them, a woman named "Rosa" who performed in Istanbul taverns, laid 
claim to being the first of her kind. (In this, she prefigured the Khazntes, all of 
whom would make the same assertion.) Actually, the first major actress was 
a young girl, Sara Segal, who ran away from home to join Goldfadn's troupe. 
In order to shield her from her parents' disapproval of women onstage, Gold- 
fadn selected an unmarried actor from his troupe for her to marry. Sara did 
so, took her husband's last name, assumed a trendier first name and — enter 
Sophie Goldstein! This marriage of convenience was eventually dissolved and 
she remarried, once again to an actor, becoming Sophie Goldstein-Karp. Her 
daughter would eventually follow in her career footsteps. 21 

Family troupes were created in this way, and actor's wives were not only 
occasionally beckoned onstage, but became staples of productions. The ap- 
pearance of women on the Yiddish stage may have taken many years, but 
swelled quickly in popularity. Once women showed what they could do 
onstage, the convention of men playing women's roles rapidly became out- 
dated. The many actresses who soon appeared on the scene (now that the 
vocation was considered more suitable for women) married the male actors 
more often than not, for convenience if nothing else. In these family troupes, 
children would inevitably find themselves onstage as well, creating a tradi- 
tion of Yiddish theater families. As in many professions, including that of the 
Khazntes, theater artists would pass down their skills (and connections) to 
the next generation. 

Meanwhile, the "original" music that Goldfadn wrote for his musical plays 
drew on liturgical chants and opera motifs, walking a blurred line between 
sacred and profane. So popular were his published songs that it did not take 
long for the trend to reverse itself; Yiddish theater motifs soon infiltrated 
cantors' synagogue chants. Also, it became common practice to incorporate 
Hebrew prayers into Yiddish shows. These ranged from home rituals and 
marriage ceremonies to services for burials or holy days. 22 

21 Sandrow, Vagabond, 1977: 52. 

22 Ibid., p. 122. 

Yiddish theater spread far and wide in Europe, troupes crossing borders 
regularly to perform. In 1882, Yiddish theater migrated to America when a 
play opened on the Lower East Side of New York. Several companies soon 
arrived, and by the turn of the century, performances took place regularly 
in Chicago and Philadelphia. England, France, Canada, South America and 
Australia got their first taste of Yiddish theater as well, but New York re- 
mained its international center, housing two major companies. 23 Although 
seeing Yiddish theater live onstage was a luxury that few of the poor Jewish 
immigrants could afford, they scrimped and saved enough for an advertised 
ticket and flocked to the major cities nearest them, enabling Yiddish theater 
touring companies to travel widely by 1910. 24 The values dramatized onstage 
were often religious ones, and thus the theater created a cultural sense of 
Jewishness (Yiddishkeit) to which even those eager to abandon Old Country 
ways and beliefs could still hold strong. 25 Female performers became role 
models not only for immigrant Jewish women, but for American women in 
general. Issues played out on the Yiddish theater stage included family mat- 
ters in an acculturating immigrant American society: motherhood's nobility; 
prostitution's allure; and historical events such as the tragedy of the Triangle 
Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911, all of which highlighted women's plight. 

In 1916, two Yiddish theaters, one in New York, the other in Chicago, 
mounted four-act productions on the then- taboo subject of birth control and 
its politics. The first of these productions opened just three months before 
Margaret Sanger, crusader for the legalization of birth control, was imprisoned 
for violating laws aimed at preventing the spread of contraceptive information. 
The legalization of birth control would not come about until a half-century 
later, between 1965 and 1972. 26 Some theater, however, was comic: mocking 
women in their struggle for equal rights; becoming doctors, politicians, and 
even rabbis and cantors. Women were often presented as either a nagging or 
dumb wife or as the quintessential Jewish mother. Nevertheless, the arts had 
become a means by which women could climb the social ladder in America. 
Yiddish theater had its own female stars, and women like Rhea Silberta and 

23 Ibid., p. 68. 

24 Baum et al, Jewish Woman, 1975: 95. 

25 Nahma Sandrow, Vagabond, 1977: 77. 

26 Jenna Weissman Joselit, The Wonders of America: Reinventing Jewish Culture, 
1880-1950 (New York: Hill and Wang), 1994: 64. 


Augusta Zuckerman (who used the pen-name "Mana-Zucca") 27 began writing 
Yiddish musicals and Jewish liturgical music as well. 

Another venue for Jewish performers was Yiddish vaudeville. Working 
women, introduced to new notions of sexuality and autonomy, began to 
reconfigure and reconsider their responsibilities. Jewish women, no longer 
voiceless or powerless, began taking on some of the business-end positions 
of manager and agent, while still dealing with sexism and Jewish stereotypes. 
Onstage, they appeared in "pants parts" (dressed as men), in blackface, and 
in sexier settings than ever before. 28 

Yiddish theater continued to develop both "high art" styles and shund styles 
(shund, meaning "trashy art" and generally referring to popular theater, was 
considered rubbish by the intellectuals, but beloved by the masses) . One could 
attend plays in New York at a large variety of houses and see similar plots to 
those on Broadway or on the radio or in silent movies. In the years following 
World War I, Yiddish theater provided new opportunities along with other 
cultural institutions. But then, in the Great Depression of the 1930s, the 
number of Yiddish newspapers decreased along with the number of American 
newspapers. And afterwards, when the number of Yiddish speakers worldwide 
had been diminished by the loss of millions during the Shoah, assimilation 
took its toll. As a result, the regular use of Yiddish declined precipitously and 
English became the primary tongue among America's Jews. Yiddish theater 
persisted into the 1950s, thanks to strong support from certain powerful and 
wealthy benefactors in the community as well as in the theater world itself. 29 By 
that time, Yiddish theater and related performances had moved to electronic 
media, including radio, recordings, movies and television. 30 While Yiddish 
theater still exists today, and although there is a current resurgence of and 
interest in Yiddish culture and music, the Yiddish stage appears to have run 

27 Irene Heskes, "Yiddish Musical Theater," Jewish Women in America: an Historical 
Encyclopedia, ed. Paula E. Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore (New York: Routledge), 
1998: 1530-1531. 

28 Peter Antelyes, "Vaudeville," Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclo- 
pedia, ed. Paula E. Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore (New York: Routledge), 1998: 

29 Sandrow, Vagabond, Wll: 300. 

30 Adrienne Fried Block and Irene Heskes, "Music," Jewish Women in America: An 
Historical Encyclopedia, ed. Paula E. Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore, (New York: 
Routledge), 1998: 951-958. 


its course by 1960. Still, as the Purim spielers might remind us, even in ancient 
Persia "the opposite happened" most unexpectedly for the Jews... 31 

Yiddish theater and vaudeville provided vehicles to stardom for many female 
performers, beginning with Goldfadn's first actress (Sophie-Sara Goldstein- 
Karp) to stars like Bessie Thomashefsky, Celia Adler, Sophie Tucker, Nellie 
Casman, and the unforgettable Molly Picon. In one recording, Picon imitates 
the florid runs of a cantor, a skill in which the Khazntes excelled. Their world 
crossed and/or joined paths with Yiddish theater: Fraydele Oysher performed 
in plays and musicals written for her, often in pants parts; 32 Mimi Sloan 
comprised half of the duo "The Feder Sisters;" 33 and Bas Sheva joined them 
among performers featured in the vaudeville act-turned-movie "Catskill 
Honeymoon." 34 Yiddish radio featured such artists; Sheindele, 35 Fraydele, and 
Perele were among its major attractions. The Khazntes may be considered 
an offshoot of Yiddish theater or vaudeville, but in truth their careers more 
closely paralleled the rise and fall of the Golden Age cantorate. Addition- 
ally, it was through the use of cantorial music that the Khazntes found their 
unique niche. Yiddish theater legitimized not only women's issues, but also 
its female performers. While some Khazntes feigned disdain for the secular 
music performed on the Yiddish stage, many included it in their repertoire, 
and all certainly owed a debt to the field. The institution of Yiddish theater 
thus laid the foundation for all Jewish women who would eventually perform 

Khazntes from the 1920s to the 1970s and Beyond 

The Khazntes were active mostly from the 1920s to the 1970s. Great changes 
occurred within the duration of the phenomenon itself, paralleling the ones 
taking place during that period in American music. Each Khaznte possessed 
a unique voice and pursued a unique path. The differences between their ca- 
reers were partly due to their individual strengths and style, but also due to 
the different decades in which they sang. It is therefore valuable to detail and 
trace the development of these extraordinary women beginning with Sophie 
Kurtzer in the 1920s and ending with Mimi Sloan in the 1970s. 

31 The Book of Esther 9:1. 

32 Fraydele Oysher archive, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York, New 

33 Mimi Sloan, interviews, November 2004 through January 2005. 

34 Mark Hausman, interviews, January 2005. 

35 Jean Gornish archive, National Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia, 


The phenomenon of the Khazntes can be said to have officially started with 
the first woman to record hazzanut, Sophie Kurtzer, the so-called "Lady Cantor 
Madam Sophie Kurtzer from Odessa," whose 1924-1925 recordings proved 
one of a kind. At the beginning of the phenomenon a unique talent such as 
Sophie Kurtzer 's could take off in modest style, that is, to find success on a 
small scale, not ruffling too many masculine feathers while making her mark 
as a performer. Though she gained popularity with an accepting public, her 
performances didn't range very far, nor did she branch out into all the media 
forms then available. Kurtzer did produce a few 78 rpm recordings, but she 
did not enj oy the kinds of opp ortunities that would later present themselves : 
Long Playing records; or leading roles in movies or television. 

With very little information available one can only guess about the public 
response (if any) to such an unusual performer. We do have one indicator; 
during the 1920s in America, at the cusp of slowly-changing beliefs regarding 
women's roles in society, for Kurtzer to record hazzanut and have it survive 
in 21 st -century compilations of "classic cantorial recordings" was a major ac- 
complishment. Her singing must have left a definite impression. Had there 
been a huge public outcry at the concept, it might have found its way into 
a publication. Perhaps Kurtzer's low-key entrance into the spotlight laid a 
foundation on which other Khazntes built. Or perhaps it was the lackoi such 
a spotlight that allowed her to record, away from critical reviews that might 
have stopped such a groundbreaker in her tracks. Kurtzer's voice, while still 
mimicking a tenor's, remained high and unmistakably female, akin to that of 
Mimi Sloan, the last of the Khazntes, minus the Broadway "belting" sound 
and large orchestral accompaniment used by Sloan in the 1970s. Kurtzer's 
particular voice-type and technique must be noted in any discussion of the 
early Khazntes. Were her voice any higher, she might not have been able to 
avoid mimicking a man's sound. With a lower voice such as that of Perele Feig, 
Kurtzer's mimicry might have been sufficiently accurate to cause a backlash of 
public opinion and prevent the future phenomenon from ever happening. 

Following Sophie Kurtzer's breakthrough, the Khazntes phenomenon 
enjoyed years of comfort while the public sought new forms and new quan- 
tities of entertainment. People remained accustomed to, yet intrigued by 
their craft. For their part the Khazntes generated controversy by pushing the 
envelope — appearing in more media forms, expanding repertoire to include 
non-liturgical music, and touring more and more cities. While continu- 
ing to record, Perele Feig began appearing as an entertainer in synagogues 
and concert halls. So accurate was her imitation of Cantor Zevulun (Zavel) 
Kwartin's vocal style and mannerisms on her 78 rpm recording of his famous 

composition, Tiber Rabi YishmoelAtsmo ("Rabbi Ishmael Purified Himself"), 
that listeners refused to believe it was not Kwartin himself recording under 
a pseudonym to increase sales. These non-believers filled every hall where 
Perele sang, in order to convince themselves otherwise. 

When Fraydele Oysher began in Yiddish theater, women had been perform- 
ing in it for several decades. But there she found a new opportunity to sing 
hazzanut. It was already considered permissible — even in the late 1920s and 
early 1930s — for women to perform on the Yiddish stage, and due to the 
comedic nature of many of the productions, behavior that would normally 
be frowned upon was instead smiled upon. Fraydele would dress as a boy or 
man and, while mimicking a bar mitzvah student or cantor, was able to sing 
hazzanut and still remain in character. Her niche was a uniquely safe place to 
perform such music. It ensured her of an audience which already expected to 
see women onstage, to which hazzanut was somewhat a novelty, as opposed 
to an audience of straightforward concert hazzanut that might have reacted 
to her performance of it with shock or disapproval. Additionally, Fraydele's 
relationship to her brother Moishe Oysher — famous for his roles in Yiddish 
films — granted her additional star status, further demonstrating the impor- 
tance of that specific time period (as the sun set on the American cantorate's 
Golden Age) to the success of the Khazntes phenomenon. Fraydele's dual 
strengths of Yiddish playacting and hazzanut gave her broad access to stage 
opportunities; playwrights wrote scripts to showcase both talents. During her 
career, she encountered some criticism for seemingly ignoring halakhah, but 
with her humorous and comically immodest/aggressive nature she laughed 
at her detractors' comments, daring anyone to prevent her from following 
her art. Thanks to her popularity, Fraydele was able to record several LPs and 
appear regularly on the radio. 

At this same time — the early 1940s — Sheindele was independently mak- 
ing her way as a contralto in Philadelphia, performing hazzanut in legitimate 
concert venues. Initially she presented the Hebraic material along with other 
music of the day and age, but she soon devoted herself solely to singing litur- 
gical pieces dedicated to her fellow Jews who were suffering and dying under 
the Nazis in Europe. Sheindele also educated her audiences, explaining the 
meaning and nuances of each liturgical selection. Her serious nature and in- 
sistence upon high standards for her art evoked public reaction, including a 
1946 letter to the editor of an unnamed Midwestern newspaper, in which the 
irate reader vented his wrath upon the entire concept of female cantors. 
We had a situation here recently in which the press announced a "strictly 
Orthodox service" in which a chazante would officiate. Assuming it is 
sad at an Orthodox service — I leave that to our 


rabbis — why hippodrome the affair? I shouldn't be surprised if next year 
some enterprising congregation, strictly Orthodox, were to announce a 
Kol Nidre service led by the Dionne quintuplets. 36 

This occurred a mere nine years before the first female cantor was appointed 
to a pulpit, and only 29 years before the first female cantor was invested by 
a seminary. Sheindele persevered in the face of it, garnering huge critical 
praise for her emotional and prayerful renditions of the liturgy. This made 
her a desirable commodity for drawing clients to various hotels, year after 
year, where she sang Passover and High Holy Day services alongside major 
cantors of the day. A new male cantor would be hired each year, but Shein- 
dele endured as the mainstay. From this, one might state that Sheindele was 
a groundbreaker in her own light, as she came closer than any other Khaznte 
to functioning as a true sh'liah tsibbur. In addition to her LP recording and 
participation in select prayer services, her weekly Philadelphi-based radio 
show for Planters Hi-Hat Peanut Oil helped make the Khazntes a known 
entity among thousands of Yiddish-speaking listeners. 

Bas Sheva's arrival on the scene represents perhaps the pinnacle of the 
Khazntes phenomenon. With a low and rich voice she managed to succeed 
in every pursuit during her all-too-short 37 years of life. She included more 
secular music in her repertoire, performed in concerts, made recordings, 
starred on Broadway and succeeded in film and on television. In the aftermath 
of World War II, hotels in upstate New York catered to Jewish couples and 
families, and there Bas Sheva found a community of people who reminisced 
longingly about the cantorial sounds they had heard in Eastern Europe. For 
her it was the most welcoming audience imaginable. Her television experience 
was a bit different. After her first sensational guest stint on the Ed Sullivan 
Show a group of Orthodox rabbis petitioned Sullivan to deny her any further 
television appearances. An unusually high rate of audience approval brought 
her back again, and Bas Sheva's interpretations of hazzanut earned her wide 
acceptance everywhere. 

Finally, as the Khazntes' novelty wore off and fans of hazzanut moved on 
to other forms of entertainment, the era came to a close with one last hur- 
rah. Mimi Sloan supplied it, relying on the most popular hits recorded by 
Moishe Oysher, while presenting herself in the latest style. By the 1970s only 
a performer as strong and as adaptable as Sloan could recreate the novelty of 
women singing liturgical music 50 years after they first attempted it in public. 
Moreover, she did so in an era when hazzanut was no longer popular. Mimi 

36 Non-headed news clipping discovered by the author in Jean Gornish archive, National 
Museum of American Jewish History, Philadelphia, PA, dated October 4, 1946. 

Sloan had performed alongside Bas Sheva in "Catskill Honeymoon," and 
with her own sister on television and in Yiddish theater back in the 1950s. 
She didn't begin to sing hazzanut until the 1970s, a decade after Bas Sheva's 
premature death. Fraydele and Sheindele were still performing hazzanut, but 
the audiences were changing. The American cantorate's Golden Age had come 
to its close a generation before, and music that was now deemed popular no 
longer included hazzanut. 

Luckily, the late Moishe Oysher's syncopated style of liturgical singing had 
become the stuff of legend through his recordings. So when Sloan's husband 
received permission from Oysher's wife, Theodora, for Mimi to perform 
Moishe's arrangements, it guaranteed a steady income. Mimi's vocal feats in 
imitating Moishe Oysher's intricate and musically demanding ornamental 
style were stunning; she became a brand-new novelty within the Khazntes' 
novelty. Mimi exhuded 1970s glamour on her album covers, comparable to 
Cher's on the Sonny and Cher Show. She sang with a brassy Broadway sound 
and did not mimic the male voice nearly as much as her predecessors had 
done, although the comparison could easily be made due to the nature of 
the music and vocal nuances one must include within the style. By her day, 
women were able to become cantors, yet Mimi states specifically that she 
never considered the path. 37 She remained a performer, clinging to her Yid- 
dish theater heritage. Her voice was strong and feminine at once, a product 
of the changing face of popular music in America. 

The Khazntes' continued performances into the 1990s — in smaller ven- 
ues — was logical, considering that their fan base — somewhat diminished 
but still a sufficient audience in major Jewish areas — was still interested in 
hearing them. The lack of later women stars can be attributed to the changes 
in popular music and the general decline of hazzanut in American syna- 
gogues. More importantly, it was due to the investiture of female cantors in 
the 1970s and 1980s, which made the art more common and the Khazntes' 
niche obsolete. 

The Khazntes as Ground-Breakers 

Although a female cantor, Betty Robbins, served at Oceanside, New York's 
Temple Avodah in 1955, 38 the Khazntes saw concerts and recordings as their 
only outlet for liturgical singing. Most of them attested to the fact that they 
neither desired to serve as actual cantors nor did they regard themselves as 

37 Mimi Sloan, interviews, November 2004 through January, 2005. 

38 Sandra Robbins, "Robbins, Betty" Jewish Women,l998: 1158-1159. 

cantors. Sheindele's nephew, Rabbi Harvey Gornish, offers a contrary opinion. 
He believes that his aunt sublimated her true desire to be a cantor by becom- 
ing an entertainer, 39 and when feasible, by having herself billed as co-officiant 
alongside major cantors of the day at hotels' High Holy Day and Passover 
services. Fraydele Oysher insisted she would never serve as a cantor. Her 
daughter, performer Marilyn Michaels, insists that even after women were 
invested as cantors by Hebrew Union College neither she nor her mother 
ever desired to enter the field. 40 Fraydele was quoted as saying that although 
she had been offered the opportunity to sing in a Reform congregation (the 
identity of which is unknown), she declined, preferring instead "to remain 
on the stage, bringing the sound of the Synagogue to best taste, rather than 
trying to take a man's place at the pulpit." 41 Mimi Sloan, who first performed 
hazzanut decades after the others and could have attended cantorial school 
if she wished, stated that the concept of becoming a cantor never entered her 
mind, and that she was happy simply being an entertainer. 42 

Regardless of their statements, it is informative to compare the Khazntes 
to the women who followed them into the professional cantorate. The short 
time that elapsed between their phenomenon and the investiture of the first 
female cantor connects them historically. Public statements that the Khazntes 
made regarding their lack of aspirations toward the cantorate may have been 
influenced by pressure to conform to societal norms and expectations for a 
Jewish woman's "proper" role generally and "proper" use of voice in the public 
arena. At the same time, the Khazntes were breaking those norms and thwart- 
ing those expectations by performing, broadcasting and recording liturgical 
music theretofore performed in synagogue only by men. 

Nor did they regard themselves as fighters for women's rights. A biography 
of Fraydele Oysher states that she didn't 

think of or refer to herself as a pioneer of feminism. However, long 
before... wo men were embraced as rabbis and cantors in synagogues 
throughout the world, Fraydele Oysher is the woman who played the 
major role in paving this new road for women." 43 

Thus an unidentified, though presumably neutral, observer links at least one 
Khaznte to upcoming female cantors. Perhaps the unknown author's appraisal 

39 Harvey Gornish, November 2004 interview. 

40 Marilyn Michaels, August 2004 interview. 

41 "A Chazendel aufShabbes" program notes, date unknown. 

42 Mimi Sloan, interviews, November 2004 through January, 2005. 

43 Fraydele Oysher biography, author unknown, found at http://www.marilynmi- on the Internet. 


of the role that Fraydele's career played in influencing the next generation's 
female cantors' choice of profession is exaggerated. What we do know is that 
each Khaznte had a different opinion about the cantorate, and that, had they 
been permitted to function as a part of it, the course their lives took would not 
necessarily have been altered. Be that as it may, it is this writer's conviction 
that the Khazntes are clearly linked to the institution of the female cantor. 

It cannot be proven that they either opened doors for other women or even 
made efforts to do so, yet with time comes historical perspective. One might 
posit that the phenomenon of the Khazntes was a harbinger of the times; 
women were increasingly being accepted as stage performers, a feminist 
wave was inundating the country, and opportunities in the burgeoning field 
of entertainment constantly beckoned. Others might point out with some 
accuracy that the timing of the phenomenon's appearance was fundamental: 
the typically American trend toward a "Modern" Orthodoxy exemplified by 
the Young Israel movement had not yet tightened the restrictions of halakhah 
around its adherents; the cantorate's Golden Age continued to glow brightly, 
and the notion of Jewish female performers was still fresh. Regardless of what 
brought the phenomenon to the scene in the early-to-mid twentieth century, 
the Khazntes' accomplishments played an important role in the history of 
women, particularly Jewish women. The Khazntes were more than just en- 
tertainers; they demonstrated that women could effectively communicate 
prayer through their voices. 

It would take many more years for women to be widely accepted as cantors, 
but audiences around the world listened with enthusiasm as these women 
sang liturgical chants. True, in order to "authenticate" their hazzanut most 
of the Khazntes manipulated their voices to sound like men, especially in the 
upper range. Yet, unlike certain notorious female synagogue choristers of the 
era parading as men, the Khazntes never hid their gender; they performed as 
women, they were advertised as women, and their recordings bore their im- 
ages. And again, some of the Khazntes donned male garb (Fraydele dressed as 
a Yeshiva boy or male cantor with payes (side-curls), tzitzit (fringed garments) 
and a suit — and Sheindele donned the male cantor's garb of mitre (cantor's 
headdress, also worn by bishops) and kitl (robe) — but they did so either for 
theater performances or for publicity photos. Most of them performed in 
feminine concert attire, as can be seen on videos and other photos. They did 
not try to be men, but instead forged their own unique paths in the world of 
Jewish entertainment. 

The Khazntes made great strides for all women in Yiddish theater, on con- 
cert stages, recordings, radio, and even movies. The one area in which they 


never overstepped the line was in serving as cantors in synagogues. While 
Sheindele co-officiated with male cantors at hotel services during holy days, 
and Mimi Sloan co-conducted communal Passover seders, none of them 
sought regular positions in the synagogue. Before Barbara (Horowitz) Ost- 
feld was invested by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 
1975, only Betty Robbins had taken a pulpit without investiture, in 1955. In 
the majority of synagogues across the denominational board, women would 
not have been accepted as cantors, either by congregants or by their own 
supportive families. The Khazntes' devotion to singing liturgical repertoire 
in public was the critical first step towards recognizing women as potential 
sh'lihei tsibbur. 

They filled an historical gap between the zogerin who led women in separate 
prayer services in medieval Europe, and the arrival of female cantors late in 
the 20 th century. 

Personal Conclusion 

That the Khazntes' example proved inspirational to many others is a fact 
that can be verified by the enduring interest shown in concert presentations 
of their music. I am speaking here from recent personal experience, having 
accepted numerous invitations to lecture on the Khazntes' careers, to play 
their recordings and to demonstrate their approach. At these events, I am 
sometimes lucky enough to meet people who listened to the Khazntes on 
the radio or who heard them perform in concert. Even the local ice cream 
man in Brooklyn had a story of listening to Fraydele and her brother Moishe 
practice in their apartment, which was conveniently located directly across 
the air shaft of his apartment building. It is my belief that the Khazntes' ulti- 
mate legacy will be to create in young people a newfound interest in a body 
of Jewish music that is slipping farther and farther into oblivion. It is my hope 
that the Khazntes will become a topic more often covered in discussions of 
female Jewish performers and the influence they've had on a still developing 
American Jewish culture. 

Prior to receiving her Master's degree in Sacred Music and investiture as a cantor 
from the Hebrew Union College's School of Sacred Music, Hayley Kobilinsky Pose- 
row had earned a B.A. in Psychology from Columbia University while concurrently 
studying vocal arts at thejuilliard School of Music. Hayley is the cantor of Congre- 
gation B'nai Yisrael inArmonk, NY, and frequently concertizes in liturgical works, 
Yiddish repertoire, opera and oratorio. She is planning a book on the Khazntes and 
their music, in which she specializes. Parts of this article first appeared in her 2005 
Master's thesis on the subject, under the guidance of Dr. Wendy Zierler. 


Kol Hazzanit: Alternatives for Women Cantors to the Vocal 
Requirements and Expression of Traditional Hazzanut 

by Pamela Kordan Trimble 

After the supper they hold the sacred vigil that is conducted in the following 
way. They rise up all together and standing in the middle of the refectory 
form themselves first into two choirs, one of men and one of women, the 
leader and precentor chosen from each being the most honoured amongst 
them and also the most musical. Then they sing hymns to God composed 
of many measures and set to many melodies, sometimes chanting together, 
sometimes taking up the harmony antiphonally, hands and feet keeping 
time in accompaniment, and rapt with enthusiasm reproduce sometimes 
the lyrics of the procession, sometimes of the halt and of the wheeling and 
counter-wheeling of a choice dance. Then when each choir has separately 
done its own part in the feast... they mix and both together become a single 
choir, a copy of the choir set up of old besides the Red Sea in honour of 
the wonders there wrought... It is on this model above all that the choir 
of the Therapeutae of either sex, note in response to note and voice to 
voice, the bass of the men blending with the treble of the women, create a 
harmonious concert (symphonia), music in the truest sense... 1 


This article explores a subject that to my knowledge has not been discussed 
before. I was unable to find any documentation on it, and as of yet there has 
been no book written specifically on the subject of women in the cantorate. 
My specific concern here is to consider the heritage of traditional hazzanut 
from a distinctly female perspective, in order to integrate into this musical 
style a female vocal expression and the unique spiritual perspective and energy 
of women in the cantorate today. 

Historian Alfred Sendrey offers documentation about the role women 
played in the sacred and secular music of ancient Israel. Written records as 
well as pictorial displays testify to the various activities of women as dancers, 
singers and instrumentalists. 2 

1 Alfred Sendrey, Music in Ancient Israel (New York: Philosophical Library), 1969: 
188-189, 526-527, citing Philo's essay on the communal Sabbath observances of the 
Jewish Monastic sect called Therapeutae (Greek: healers:) in their settlement near 
Alexandria, particularly their night-long singing and dancing following the friend- 
ship-and-love meal known as agape. 

1 Sendrey, Music in Ancient Israel, 1969: 516 


In the First Temple, women regularly participated in the ritual as singers 
and instrumentalists. 3 

David and the captains of the army appointed for service in the Sanctuary 
the children of Asaph, of Heman and of Jeduthun, who prophesied to the 
accompaniment of lyres, harps and cymbals ...God gave Heman fourteen 
sons and three daughters; all these were under the charge of their father 
for singing in the House of God by order of the king. 
The development of anti-feminine sentiment among the priestly caste and 
the anti-feminine tendency of the later priestly scribes influenced the gradual 
displacement of women from any ritual functions, and effaced or so trans- 
formed our original sources that any record of the roles women shared in the 
sacred service were obscured forever. 4 

The only other historical information recorded on women's participation 
in what later developed into the professional cantorate, is in the European 
communities of Nuremberg and Worms of the 13th century, where women 
led services for other women, in sections of the synagogue that were either 
adjacent to the men's section or at times connected by a gallery. 5 Women who 
were musically talented and knowledgeable in the liturgy were engaged to lead 
these services. Two of these women are remembered by name: Richenza of 
Nurenberg and Urania of Worms. 6 The epitaph on the tombstone of Urania 
reads: "This headstone commemorates the eminent and excellent lady Ura- 
nia, the daughter of R. Abraham, who was the chief of the synagogue singers. 
His prayer for his people rose up to glory. And as to her, she, too, with sweet 
tunefulness, officiated before the female worshipers to whom she sang the 
hymnal portions. In devout service her memory shall be preserved." 7 

Although the above would indicate that women have performed in Jewish 
religious services in various capacities in ancient times and as recently as the 
13th century, there is no precedent for women having performed traditional 
hazzanut, an improvisational liturgical style that developed at a much later 
date, exclusively for the male voice. 

3 First Chronicles 25: 5-6 (my emphases). 

4 Sendrey, p. 516. 

5 Leo Landman. The Cantor — An Historical Perspective (New York: Yeshiva Uni- 
versity), 1972: 68. 

6 Idem. 

7 Idem. 


Physiological functions of the male and female singing v 

One really cannot pursue a project of this type without including a certain 
amount of discussion regarding vocal production. With such demanding vo- 
cal criteria required as an integral part of the prayer expression in the style 
of traditional hazzanut, the hazzan, whether female or male, should strive 
to acquire the proper physical function in order that he/she could express 
the text with as many vocal colors as possible, developing, within one's own 
range of vocal talent, the required set of vocal criteria. 

The lungs and diaphragm and the whole breathing apparatus must be 
understood by the singer, because the foundation of singing is breathing 
and breath control... A singer must be able to rely on her/his breath, just 
as he/she relies upon the solidity of the ground beneath his/her feet. 8 

Now let us consider what is technically known as the Valsalva Maneuver, 
because this aspect of pulmonary and thoracic mechanics appears to be 
evident as an essential function in the vocal technique of Eastern European 
Ashkenazic hazzanim who flourished during the so-called Golden Age of 
hazzanut, roughly 1900-1940. This is the period of time during which most 
of the liturgical music I discuss in this article was composed and originally 

I interviewed Dr. Maurice Sheetz, a Pulmonary and Critical Care Medi- 
cine Fellow at St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. He was able 
to identify and define for me, by listening to recordings of Golden Age can- 
tors Gershon Sirota, Yossele Rosenblatt, Zavel Kwartin, Pierre Pinchik, Leib 
Glantz, David Kusevitsky, Moshe Ganchoff, David Roitman and Mordecai 
Hershman, and recordings of Bel Canto opera singers Enrico Caruso, Mat- 
tia Battistini, Georges Thill, Fernando De Lucia, Nellie Melba, Louisa Tet- 
razzini, Lilli Lehmann, Zinka Milanov and Rosa Ponselle, a particular type 
of breathing. 

It's an audible function that we singers would call a type of "breath support" 
technique: the Valsalva (or Valsalva-like) Maneuver, common to the vocalism 
of each of the above-named artists. Dr. Sheetz described this function as a "... 
controlled expiration of the breath against a closed glottis." The opposite, the 
Mueller Maneuver, which consists of inspiration against a closed glottis, can 
also be heard, incorporated into the singing technique of these great sing- 
ers. One can hear very clearly the incorporation of the Valsalva Maneuver 
on the recordings of all these singers as a breath pressure cut-off, a type of 

8 Luisa Tetrazzini, The Art of Singing (New York: Dover edition), 1975: 11. 

audible "grunt" at the end of the phrase, and with the Mueller Maneuver, a 
short but audible "grunt" at the beginning of a phrase. The latter is a method 
of "setting" or leaning the breath and singing against the chest, establishing 
the appdggio or breath "prop." 9 

The appdggio is the deep breath regulated by the diaphragm; no singer can 
really acquire high notes or flexibility or strength of tone without the attack 
coming from this seat of respiration. 10 This type of breath support function 
allowed the cantors and opera singers of that unique period in vocal history 
to develop a remarkable ability to use the eight criteria of Bel Canto sing- 
ing, endowing them with a vast spectrum of vocal, emotional and spiritual 
expression. One still hears this technique on the recordings of Cantor Moshe 
Ganchoff and in the performances of Cantors Israel Goldstein and Robert 
Abelson. The eight criteria that define the art of Bel Canto singing are: 














Luisa Tetrazzini, one of the most famous of Bel Canto coloratura sopranos, 
explains this breath-pressure function in her book. She kept the pressure of 
the breath against her sternum at all times and that allowed her vocal cords 
to remain free to vibrate. Dr. Sheetz described it rather colorfully: 

It's like saying that at one end of your body you've this tremendous pressure 
of breath against your sternum, but at the same time you are learning to 
relax the muscles from the neck up... There are these little muscles that 
surround the vocal cords, the ones in the back that change the length and 
tension of your cords are called the Arytenoids. What happens is that 
you build up pressure against your sternum; then you have to learn how 
to relax the muscles surrounding the vocal cords so that you can open 
your throat and at the same time slowly release some of the pressure, not 
all of the expiration, directly against your vocal cords. It's analogous to 
banking a pool ball off a side cushion instead of going directly through; you 

9 Tetrazzini, p. 15. 

10 Ibid; p. 16. 

somehow divert that air so that it goes through in a controlled amount, 
as little as possible. 
Johan Sundberg spends a third of his book on the scientific underpinning of 
singing 11 in discussing the type of breathing evidenced by a "grunt" at cut-off. 
He calls it sub-glottal pressure, involving the balance of equal and opposite 
muscular activity required to produce not only the healthy singing tone but 
the different dynamics possible to the vocal organ. 

To observe the Valsalva-like Maneuver function, one can watch a baby cry. 
When a baby cries, the abdominal wall moves in on inhalation and presses out 
on exhalation, whereas when the baby is resting or sleeping, the abdominal 
wall moves out for inhalation and in for exhalation. Thus, the normal breath- 
ing function is reversed. Caruso describes it in these terms: 

To take a full breath properly the chest must be raised at the same moment 
the abdomen sinks in. Then with the gradual expulsion of the breath a 
contrary movement takes place. ... It is this ability to take in an adequate 
supply of breath and retain it until required that makes or, by contrary, 
mars all singing... This art of respiration once acquired, the student has 
gone a considerable step on the road to Parnassus. 12 
Lilli Lehmann describes proper respiration as follows: "I had learned this: 
to draw in the abdomen and diaphragm, raise the chest and hold the breath 
in it by the aid of the ribs; in letting out the breath, gradually to relax the 
abdomen." 13 

Another essential aspect of breath control is learning how to release as 
little breath as possible while singing. Giovanni Battista Lamperti was another 
of the great teaching Master's of the art of Bel Canto. He believes that the 
challenge for a singer is to balance giving the breath and holding the breath 
at the same time; all problems with singing are a mismanagement of the 
breath. He discusses what he calls the force of the compressed breath and 
how to handle it. 

The breath is the ocean — the voice is the boat that floats on the ocean! 
Nature gave us the voice — we cannot change it — but we can educate 
the breath and learn to control it. This — constitutes the whole method 
of singing. 14 

11 Johan Sundberg. The Science of the Singing Voice (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois 
University Press), 1987: Chapters 1 through 4. 

12 Enrico Caruso. The Art of Singing (New York: Dover), 1975: 54-55 

13 Lilli Lehman. How to Sing (New York: MacMillan), 1949:14. 

14 Giovanni Battista Lamperti Vocal Wisdom (New York: Taplinger), 1931: 131- 

While singing in Europe I was introduced to a very interesting and effec- 
tive vocal exercise; legend has it that it was an exercise used by Caruso for 
controlling the emission of breath. One holds a lit candle flame close to the 
mouth, and attempts to sing at different dynamic levels while keeping the 
candle flame absolutely steady. In doing this, the singer learns to control the 
emission of breath with the musculature of intra- thoracic pressure and dia- 
phragmatic function. If done properly, it is a very useful exercise. 

The Valsalva-like Maneuver allows male singers to use the krekhtz (Yiddish: 
"sob") very effectively as another tool for emotional expression. The krekhtz, 
however, is not natural to the female voice. 

If one listens and then compares the singing of Cantors Pinchik and Sirota, 
one hears that Pinchik did not possess as great a natural vocal instrument as 
did Sirota. Despite this fact, Pinchik could achieve the same expressive results 
when expression demanded it. He did it by implementing the breath-support 
function discussed above. However different their vocal timbre, Pinchik and 
Sirota had one thing in common: their use of the Valsalva-like Maneuver, 
audible on their recordings, to impart expressiveness to their singing. 

In comparing books on Bel Canto singing, one is convinced that there was 
at that time a traditional way that one learned to sing, an aesthetic that one 
recognized and strived to attain, to the best of one's ability. It is no accident 
that the era of Bel Canto and the Golden Age of hazzanut followed each other 
historically. One wonders what conditions were present that allowed this to 
happen; that such marvelous singing should thrive sequentially in two different 
worlds of expression: in the world of Italian opera and the world of synagogue 
prayer. One also wonders what might have been achieved hazzanically if, at 
that time, women had been allowed to serve as cantors. 

Vocal Tradition for Women: Where Do We Start? 

Women have no vocal tradition in the style of traditional hazzanut. So where 
does one turn to study good vocal writing specifically for women, vocal writing 
that would suggest a type of vocal expression similar to that already present 
in the singing tradition of Eastern European hazzanut, but better suited to 
the vocal instruments of women? The answer, for me, was to begin studying 
the vocal writing of master composers like Bach, Mozart, Bellini, Bizet and 
Verdi. I analyzed how they specifically set prayer to music, how they tailored 
that type of singing for each female voice fach (German: "category"). 

In the operatic tradition, women enjoy an established vocal history span- 
ning hundreds of years; women have had the opportunity to communicate the 


widest spectrum of emotions through a very special array of vocal colors and 
expressive devices representative of superlative vocal writing for the female 
voice. This sort of vocal mastery is cultivated over many years of serious study, 
through the process of classical voice training. I chose opera as my medium 
of exploration instead of, for instance, gospel singing, because the vocal and 
expressive criteria required of singers by the Bel Canto operatic repertoire is 
paralleled by the remarkable vocalism associated with Ashkenazic hazzanut 
of the early 1900s. 

One must remember that just as Old School cantors wrote for themselves, 
composing settings of prayers to suit their own vocal abilities and religious 
personality, many of the operatic composers wrote individual roles for spe- 
cific women. Composers often designed an entire role for the individual 
vocal abilities of a given female singer, creating a vocal line through which 
the artist could best express herself. The prima donna had always played a 
central and creative role in the development of opera. The operas Norma by 
Bellini and Anna Bolena by Donizetti were composed for the vocal genius of 
Guiditta Pasta; the capabilities of Schroder-Devrient. Stolz and Jeritza were 
exploited to their full by Wagner, Verdi and Richard Strauss, respectively 15 
In our own day Luciano Berio entrusted Cathy Berberian with music that 
left a great deal to her own improvisation. Donizetti wrote his most famous 
tragic opera, Lucia di Lamermoor, for Fanny Persiani; Giuseppina Strep- 
poni created the role of Abigaille in Verdi's first real success, Nabucco, a role 
he composed expressly for her. 16 Just as these composers wrote music that 
played to the strengths of individual women, so did the hazzanim of Eastern 
Europe a century ago write for themselves, using the improvisational style of 
traditional hazzanut to express their individual religious sentiment through 
their own unique vocalism. 

In examining operatic writing I kept the following textual and vocal con- 
siderations in mind. 

1) Tessitura (general positioning of the vocal line): i.e., how this reflects the 
text; whether the high voice was used more for emotional outbursts and 
the middle voice used more for recitative-type expression. 

2) Passdggio (vocal register-break, mainly between middle and upper ranges): 
i.e., does the composer write repeated notes in the passdggio for the female 
voice, and if so, towards what expressive end? 

15 Rupert Christiansen. Prima Donna (New York: Viking), 1985: 8. 

16 Ibid. p. 216. 

3) Vowels/Diction: whether certain vowels are avoided in certain parts of 
the vocal range; how the vowels are used to express the text in different 

4) Phrasing: the use of legato, staccato, contour (rests vs. motion), runs and 
sustained notes. 

5) Dynamics: how the text is expressed through the use of piano, forte, 
sforzando, crescendo and diminuendo. 

6) Tempi/Rhythm: how tempo and rhythm are used to enhance the text's 

7) Embellishments: how coloratura, trills and grace notes are used to 
emphasize the music's emotional subtext. 

In addition, each of the operatic prayer- setting examples I studied reflects 
a defineable religious sentiment. 

1) "Erbarme dich..." (Have mercy upon me...) from the St. Matthew Passion 
by J.S. Bach: A prayer of specific entreaty. 

2) "Ave Maria..." from Otello by Verdi: A prayer of general supplication. This 
is one of the most beloved arias in the entire operatic repertoire. 

3) "Alleluja..." from Exsultate, Jubilate, Motet, K. 165 by Mozart: A song of 

4) ... s'ancorsipiange (from within the aria "Tu che le vanita"; from£>o« Carlo 
by Verdi: A desperate supplication. 

5) "Pie Jesu..." from Requiem by Faure: A gentle plea. 

6) "Possente..." prayer of the High Priestess, from Ai'da by Verdi; a hymn of 
affirmation and beseeching. 

7) Numi, pieta... (from within the aria "Ritorna Vincitor") from Aida by 
Verdi: passionate invocation. 

8) "Casta Diva..." from Norma by Bellini: praise, thanksgiving. 

9) "Madonna benedetta..." from La Boheme, Act IV, by Puccini: an intimate 
prayer chant. 

10) Vous me donnerez (from within the aria "Je dis, que rien ne m'epouvante") 
from Carmen by Bizet: one of the great moments in opera, a religious 
affirmation of exquisite beauty. 

1 1 ) "Libera me..." from the Requiem by Verdi: declamatory exaltation to hushed 

12) "Requiem Eternam..." Requiem by Verdi: ethereal assurance, incorporating 
a remarkably lyrical vocal line with the classic female vocal device of the 
high floating pianissimo. 

13) "Vissi d'arte," the heroine's signature aria from Tosca by Puccini, in which 
a woman speaks directly to God, questioning, asking why such a horrible 
fate has befallen her (which indeed it has)... "Why, why, O God, have you 
paid me back this way?" In the opening of the aria, Tosca says she has 
lived for art and love, daily performing good deeds; why, then, she cries, 
do you abandon me now? Despairing, she does not pray for mercy, but 
raises a fist, vocally. This is a very unusual stance for women in opera. 
Among present-day compositions, Cantor Lawrence Avery's setting of 
Ribono Shel Olam 11 displays very effective and sensitive vocal writing, and was 
composed specifically for a woman's voice. Dr. Samuel Adler, in a telephone 
interview, explained to me that he composed both "Ahavat Olam" from Shir 
Chadash and "Sim Shalom" from Shiru Ladonay specifically for a woman's 
voice. After studying both pieces, I found both selections to be written with 
feminine aesthetic and vocal criteria in mind. He also composed several beau- 
tiful prayers for the Rachel and Leah characters in his opera, The Wrestler. 

Specific characteristics of men's and women's voices 

In general, the male singer has thicker vocal cords — from top to bottom 

— than the female singer. A man also has a naturally greater vital breath 
capacity than a woman. 18 For example, a man's vocal cords will be thicker 
than a woman's of the same voice weight and category: i.e. lyric tenor vs lyric 
soprano, or dramatic tenor vs dramatic soprano. Because the vocal cords are 
thicker , the male singer has to apply more sub-glottal pressures to cause the 
vocal cords to vibrate. 

Therefore, a male singer singing a specific passdggio passage — Eb-E-F-F# 

— is producing a steady stream of breath pressure that is greater than the 
stream of breath pressure produced by a female singer negotiating the same 
passage in her passdggio. 19 Because a more intense pressure is already estab- 
lished in this tessitura of the voice of the male singer, it is easier for him to 
repeat syllables on a particular pitch in this tessitura. In addition, the male 
singer has the natural acoustical phenomenon called the "covered tone," which 
occurs as the male voice passes through its passdggio, an effect that a female 
singer does not experience. 

If properly produced, the female voice passes from the middle register to 
the head register with much less of an aural disruption, and with less sub- 

17 Gates of Prayer, Chaim Stern, ed. (New York: Central Conference of Am 
Rabbis), 1975: 679-680. 

18 Sundberg, Science of the Singing Voice, 1987: 26. 

19 Ibid. p. 34. 


glottal pressure. In order to "speak" in that tessitura the female singer must 
generate additional pressure against her vocal cords, often producing a harsh 
"white" or open quality that can sound strained and unnatural to the listener. 
We must also remember that women do not speak in that range of the voice, 
whereas men can, and often do. The basic female singing voice is an octave 
above the male singing voice, so the acoustical phenomenon that occurs 
as the woman's voice passes into the head register is dramatically different 
than that produced by the male voice in the same tessitura. It is also noted 
that the back of the throat of the female singer is much more open as she 
passes through the passaggio into the head register, 20 and hence must force 
an artificial closure of that throat position in order to produce clear diction 
on repeated notes in that tessitura. This contorts the healthy, natural vocal 
mechanism and produces an unpleasant sound. 

The type of vocal writing for women that leads to this result is very rare in 
any of the operatic examples I examined during my research (not limited to 
the examples cited here). I did find passages that deliberately sought to pro- 
duce this type of vocal effect; Puccini used it in Madame Butterfly and Verdi 
did likewise in Ai'da andMacbeth. Both composers introduced it at dramatic 
moments, climactic points in the musical drama. If used judiciously it can 
simulate intense despair, anger, pain or even hysterical ecstacy But again, it 
is extremely rare, and is found in the more dramatic repertoire for the spinto 
or dramatic soprano voice. Generally achieved by having a singer repeat 
words in the voice's passaggio — either on one continuous note or moving 
between two or three notes — it is a very common compositional technique 
in traditional hazzanut. There it works well for the male voice but not for the 
female voice, for the reasons just discussed. 

I wish to avoid any confusion at this point between the use of the terms 
"head voice," "chest voice" and "registers." They are not the same thing. Let 
me give you an example. If women were to speak as Julia Child or, for that 
matter, as Jesse Norman or the late Elizabeth Schumann, they would be using 
the "head voice" as a speaking vehicle. Most women, however, speak in their 
"chest voice"; it has become, certainly in the last fifty years, a more socially 
acceptable way of producing the female speaking voice, despite the fact that 
it is not as healthy a function for a woman, and certainly not as healthy for 
the professional singer. A register, on the other hand, is most commonly de- 
scribed as a phonation frequency range, in which all tones are perceived as 
being produced in a similar way, and which therefore possess a similar vocal 

20 Lehmann, How to Sing, 1944: 62. 


timbre. 21 Dr. Harry Hollien (1974) defines vocal register in the following way: 
"a totally laryngeal event; it consists of a series or a range of consecutive voice 
frequencies which can be produced with nearly identical phonatory quality, ... 
there will be little overlap in fundamental frequency ... the operational defini- 
tion of a register must depend on supporting perceptual, acoustic, physiologic 
and aerodynamic evidence. 22 In the male voice, one distinguishes between 
normal, or modal register, which is used for lower phonation frequencies, 
and falsetto register. 23 

When a man is singing high notes in full voice, if he relaxes his diaphrag- 
matic lean, or loses his support for a second, he does what we call cracking. 
Cracking is breaking from full voice back to an unsupported sound. An unsup- 
ported sound, where the breath releases and passes through the vocal cords 
without any resistance of any kind in the support system, produces what we 
call the falsetto. A falsetto is simply the fluttering of the edges of the vocal 
cords without any equalization process or resistance in the support system 
at all. If a woman loses, for a moment, her breath lean, a variety of things 
can happen, because the female voice is by nature produced by singing with 
more of the edges of the vocal cords vibrating, rather than, as in the male 
voice, more pressure against a larger area of the vocal cords. 24 If she cracks, 
she can produce a shrill, thin sound; she might even shriek, or her voice will 
stop singing altogether. In the male voice, however, if he cracks the singer will 
crack into falsetto, and he will continue singing in the falsetto function. 

The falsetto is an incredibly effective expressive vocal tool when used 
creatively by the male singer. We hear it employed with great expertise by 
Yossele Rosenblatt and by many other great cantors of the early 20 th century. 
Sometimes a male singer can begin a tone in the falsetto, blend into a full 
voice tone and then decrescendo, creating a beautiful pianissimo effect. If a 
male cantor or opera singer feels tired, or not in great voice, he has the op- 
portunity to use the falsetto simply as a way to rest or save his voice. These 
are possibilities that a woman does not have available to her. Anything that 
one might call a falsetto in the female voice would be so thin that it would 
be unusable. A woman, then, even for the finest pianissimo, has to maintain 
her support for all vocal expression. Her vocal function does not allow her 
this resting technique. 

21 Sundberg, Science of the Singing Voice, 1987:49 

22 Ibid. p. 50. 

23 Idem. 

24 Ibid. p.51. 


In the following quote, Lilli Lehmann reiterates her belief in the existence 
of falsetto in the male voice but not in the female voice. She also points out 
how the use of a particular singing effect, such as the falsetto in the male 
voice, comes in and out of vogue, depending on the era of singing. 

Most male singers — tenors especially — consider it beneath them, 
generally, indeed, unnatural or ridiculous, to use the falsetto, which is a 
part of all male voices, as the head tones are a part of all female voices. 
They do not understand how to make use of its assistance, because they 
often have no idea of its existence, or know it only in its unmixed purity, 
that is, its thinnest quality. Of its proper application, that is, its necessary 
admixture with chest resonance, they have not the remotest conception. 
Their singing is generally in keeping with their ignorance. 25 
The story goes that when Rossini first heard the famous French tenor 
Duprez sing a high C, initially da I petto ("from the chest"), he complained 
bitterly about how hideous it was and how he hated it. He could not abide 
male singers who tried to carry their chest or full voice all the way into the 
upper reaches of their range. Puccini, too, preferred the use of falsetto — or at 
least a supported falsetto — sometimes referred to as voix mixe (the "mixed 

During the first quarter of the twentieth century there came into vogue 
something called le petit ton inferieur, "the small inferior tone." This was a 
falsetto tone that preceded a full tone. The male singer would deliberately 
make a falsetto attack and then, by tightly closing the glottis, produce the full 
tone. Closing the vocal cords tightly would create a sudden resistance to the 
breath. This resistance would then be equalized by a corresponding pressure 
felt in the diaphragm. It is an application of Newton's third Law of Motion, 
which states that for every action of a force there is an equal and opposite 
reaction. In this case the resistance, resulting from the closure of the glottis, 
causes this physical reaction, responded to immediately in the diaphragm. 
It gained the Italian name il punto d'appdggio ("the point of support"). In 
modern times it has come to be called just appdggio, referring to a more gen- 
eralized support across the diaphragmatic area. In Spain, however, it is still 
called el punto d'apoyo. This type of support technique, initiated via le petit 
ton inferieur and completed by activating the diaphragm through closing the 
glottis, became very popular. As more and more volume was required, this 
function turned into the krekhtz or "sob" that we associate with the singing 
of the great cantors and opera singers of past and present. 

25 Lehmann, How to Sing, 1949: 124. 

The register break that occurs when a man shifts from falsetto into the nor- 
mal or modal register creates the effect that we call the krekhtz. 26 This abrupt 
and very audible vocal effect, used effectively and extensively by Ashkenazic 
cantors of the past century and by many Italian opera singers of the same 
historical period — including Enrico Caruso and Beniamino Gigli — is not 
a vocal device that works particularly well in the female voice. The female 
voice has four recognized registers: the chest register, the middle register, the 
head register, and the whistle register. 27 A woman has to set up an artificial 
or unnatural breath-pressure condition to approximate this dramatic shift 
downward from the head register into the middle register, for a "sob" effect. 
It occurs more naturally when she breaks from the middle register into the 
chest register. Women do not, however, sing in the chest voice as a general 
rule, because the expressive possibilities in that part of the female voice are 
extremely limited. Even in Broadway singing, where "belting" is a commonly 
used singing technique for women, the majority of the expressive vocal writ- 
ing for the female voice is still found in the head voice. 

In the woman's voice the middle register takes hold in the notes from E 
on the first line of the staff about to middle C. The head voice begins at 
middle C and runs up to the end of the voice, sometimes to B-flat or C, 
where it joins the second head register, which I have heard ascend into 
a whistle in phenomenal voices... In the high register the head voice, or 
voice which vibrates in the head cavities, should be used chiefly. The 
middle register requires palatal resonance, and the first notes of the head 
register and the last ones of the middle require a judicious blending of 
both. The middle register can be dragged up to the high notes, but always 
at the cost first of the beauty of the voice and then of the voice itself, for 
no organ can stand being used wrongly for a long time. 28 

The widest spectrum of expressive possibilities for the female voice lies 
within the parameters of the head voice. Needless to say, the chest voice can be 
used for a special effect on occasion, but the head voice, certainly throughout 
the hundreds of years of operatic development, has endowed female singers 
with the widest variety of expressive possibilities. Liturgical composition for 
woman's voice therefore, demands an exploration of the possibilities of the 
upper notes of the female voice, the intention being to discover more and 
more ways to express a wider range of emotion and possible religious senti- 
ment. When properly cultivated and developed, the female singer has at her 
disposal the uniquely beautiful high pianissimo, thefil di voce ("thin voice"), 

26 Sundberg, Science of the Singing Voice, 1987: 57. 

27 Ibid. p. 49. 

28 Tetrazzini, Art of Singing, 1975:21 

the thrill of finely- tuned high coloratura spun on the barest vocal thread, and 
the brilliance of the well-produced trill with which to enhance the impact of 
the text at hand. These effects should be explored very deliberately and con- 
sciously, and then carefully interwoven into the texture of the vocal line. 

Writing of the vocal line for liturgical texts must accommodate the clear 
communication of that text to the listener. As I have stated previously, a man's 
singing voice is very much an extension of his speaking voice. Women, on 
the other hand, tend to speak in the chest voice and then adjust to the head 
voice when they begin to sing. The male singer is more easily understood 
in the upper part of his voice than the female singer because he is heard an 
octave lower by the listener. A tenor can sing different syllables, vowels and 
consonants, in a higher tessitura, even high notes, and will be understood 
much more easily than a woman singing in that same higher tessitura. The 
head voice of the woman also takes on certain overtones that interfere with 
diction. When a woman attempts to exaggerate her pronunciation in the 
upper voice it can cause a reaction in the root of the tongue, in the throat 
or in the jaw, and can interfere with the breath support system in the body. 
Because of this interference, the higher notes can become pinched, tight and 
unpleasant in quality and timbre. 

Perhaps, therefore, if the writing in the passaggio were to allow enough 
time for breath, relaxation and enunciation to control this reactive reflex, the 
female voice might be able to adjust. Women need more time to repeat vowels 
and consonants, particularly in the passaggio. This again has to do with the 
fact that less pressure is required by the female singer to produce these tones, 
and when an extra pressure is exerted to compensate for the diction, the tone 
will suffer. In my own arrangements, I rewrite the denser, repetitive part of 
the vocal line in a lower tessitura, and allow the voice to soar into the upper 
range on single notes for a more intense emotional response. This is the way 
that expression of emotion can be increased in the upper ranges of the female 
voice, while due consideration is still given whatever cantorial nuances have 
been written into the composition by its composer. 

At the same time, let me state here that the problems with diction that arise 
for women cannot necessarily be alleviated by simply transposing a piece of 
music. Often the sentiment of the liturgical composition is lost when trans- 
posed. So, the approach to the music must be more selective in nature. 

We have no way of knowing, at this point, what effect singing music that 
forces the voice to function unnaturally in the passaggio will have on the 
longevity of the female voice. This is a genuine concern, and needs to be 
dealt with by those who will attempt to rearrange cantorial music for the 


female instrument. Caruso's following statement applies even more so to the 
expression of prayer texts: "Certainly no singer can be called a great artist 
unless his diction is good, for a beautiful voice alone will not make up for 
other deficiencies. A singer endowed with a small voice or even one of not 
very pleasing quality can give more pleasure than a singer possessing a big, 
impressive voice, but no diction." 29 

Production of vowels in the different registers of any voice directly ef- 
fects the quality and timbre of the sound produced. One of the most famous 
voice teachers of the Bel Canto era was Mathilde Marchesi, daughter of the 
renowned Manuel Garcia. She was the teacher of the great Australian soprano 
Nellie Melba, and she taught only women. She would not allow any of her 
students to sing an "ee" vowel on any note in the passaggio or above. She felt 
it was a detriment to the health of the female vocal apparatus and unaesthetic 
to boot. 30 Giovanni Lamperti taught that a woman must never vocalize on any 
vowel but "ah" in the passaggio and head register. 31 The theory is that because 
of acoustical frequency levels in the female voice in the passaggio and above, 
the shape of the throat and the position of the soft palate are not conducive 
to comfortably producing the extremely horizontal vowel "ee." The female 
voice becomes very thin on an "ee" vowel in the upper register, losing all of 
the open-throated sound that gives beauty and color to the voice. In examin- 
ing fourteen Bellini arias, I found four examples of "ee" vowels on notes in 
the passaggio, but none in the head register. Mozart and Verdi used the "ee" 
vowel for very specific dramatic and emotional effects on high notes. 

In Mozart's The Magic Flute, Pamina is near death, on the verge of suicide. 
Mozart writes a high Bb pianissimo on the word Hebe in the phrase "...der liebe 
gluck...," at which point Pamina is weak, despondent and has lost all hope. 
Many sopranos, in their attempt to avoid this "ee" vowel, will change the words 
to "... der ganzes gluck...," which changes the mood that Mozart specifically 
wanted to create, evoked only by a thin, helpless, frail female sound. 

Verdi uses the "ee" vowel in two arias from La Traviata: "Sempre Libera" 
and in the final phrase of Violetta's closing aria "Addio del passato." In "Sempre 
Libera" Violetta sings "...follie..." (pronounce foe-lee-eh) on a high Ab and again 
in the same aria "...gioire..." (pronounced joe-ee-reh) on high G. Here, they 
are both indicative of hysterical outbursts, so Verdi uses the "ee" vowel for a 

29 Caruso, Art of 'Singing, 1975:62. 

30 Mathil de Marchesi. Bel Canto— A Theoretical and Practical Method (New York: 
Dover), 1974: 17. 

31 Ibid. p. 24. 

more penetrating, intense sound, very appropriate at those moments in the 
opera. In "Addio del passato" the final word of the aria is "fini" (pronounced 
fee-nee). Violetta is on her deathbed. The final high pianissimo of the aria 
is sung on a high A, generating an unbelievably sympathetic feeling for the 
character. The sound is exactly as Verdi intended it: thin, weak and fragile 
in its delicate beauty. Verdi composed this at the beginning of the Verismo 
("Realistic") period in opera, when a desire for true-to-life vocal expression 
was just emerging. 


This investigation has given me a much deeper connection with the liturgi- 
cal texts and a clearer understanding of the unique bond between word and 
music. My research has convinced me that traditional hazzanut is a feasible 
and accessible artistic outlet for the female cantor. I feel certain that other 
female cantors will agree with me if they find the subject interesting enough 
for further experimentation and study. The freedom and courage to explore 
this unique musical form of religious expression will perhaps bring about 
the use of musical improvisation among women cantors, thus encouraging 
them to open new avenues for infusing synagogue prayer with a spirituality 
that is uniquely feminine. 

Pamela Kordan Trimble received her graduate degree in vocal performance from 
the Eastman School of Music, and her cantorial ordination from Hebrew Union 
College. She has performed extensively for both the religious and secular communi- 
ties, serving as a professional cantor for the past seventeen years and performing the 
operatic roles ofMichaela in Bizet's Carmen, Rosalinda in Strauss' Die Fledermaus, 
Mimi in Puccini's La Boheme, Pamina in The Magic Flute, Rosina in Rossini's The 
Barber of Seville and Nedda in Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci. Cantor Trimble has also 
appeared as a concert soloist with the Naples (FL) Philharmonic and the Jerusalem 
Symphony Orchestra. This article is adapted from her 1991 Master's thesis at the 
School of Sacred Music. 

Music of The First Jewish Woman Composer 

by Victor Tunkel 

At a recent concert in London, an item by Salamone Rossi was introduced 
as by "the first Jewish composer since King David." By that criterion we may 
say that the first Jewish woman composer since Miriam and Deborah was 
Leonora Duarte (1610 - 1678). 

She was the eldest of six musically talented children of Gaspar Duarte, a 
Portuguese marrano. Gaspar, himself a keyboard player, had done well in the 
diamond trade and his grand family house in Antwerp had become a centre 
of culture: of the arts, sciences and literature, and so known as the "Antwerp 
parnassus"; but above all, in its music making, said by contemporaries to 
excel even the Monteverdi household in Venice. All the siblings seem to have 
played or sung in public, said an English visitor, "a fine consort and harmony 
for lutes, viols, virginals and voices." Leonora's sister, Francesca — a superb 
singer — is described by a French visitor as rossignol anversois ("the night- 
ingale from Antwerp"). Her brother Diego, jeweller to both Charles I and II 
of England, composed many settings of psalms and other poems, but none 
seem to have survived. 

Fortunately, however, one composition of Leonora's has survived, in a 
manuscript at Christ Church College, Oxford: her Sinfonie, seven pieces for 
a consort of five viols. 1 The paper used suggests a date of copying between 
1630 and 1645. David Pinto describes four of the pieces as "free fantasies a 
langlaise"; two to be cantusfirmus compositions and one, apparently based 
on Frescobaldi's four-part Ricercari (featuring imitative themes, 1615), to 
which Leonora has added a fifth, treble, part and made other changes. Each 
piece is in a different Church mode, Dorian, Ionian, etc. 

The English style of her pieces and their somewhat "old-fashioned" modal 
and polyphonic early-17 th century character has led to speculation of an as- 
sociation with England, or at least with an English teacher in Antwerp. Per- 
haps this was John Bull, or another of the many refugees from the upheavals 
in England. 

Sadly, none of the siblings seem to have married. In that small and dwindling 
community there may have been few prospects of finding partners. Some 
members of the family went and settled in Amsterdam, where they were able 
to throw off the pretense of Catholicism. But Leonora and her immediate 

1 Leonora Duarte 's 7 Sinfonie a 5 is available from Corda Music Publications, 183 
Beech Road, St. Albans AL3 5AN, England. 

family remained in Antwerp, where she and two of her sisters died in about 
1678, probably as a result of the plague that year. When Diego died in 1691, 
the last flame of the Duarte talent was finally extinguished. A cousin, Manuel 
Levy Duarte, had to come from Amsterdam to wind up the family's affairs. 
It is doubtful if the complete set of Leonora's Sinfonie has ever been per- 
formed; certainly it has not been recorded. But, unlike so many brief flowerings 
of Jewish music talent down the centuries of which we have not a trace, here 
we have all the information we need, scores and composer, to give her work 
life. It has been edited and published by Corda Music of St Albans, England, 
with a biographical note by Rudolf Rasch of the University of Utrecht, and a 
musical analysis by David Pinto. Further accounts of Leonora and her family 
may be found in "The Antwerp Duarte family as musical patrons" by Rasch 
in the colloquium, Orlandus Lassus and His Time (Peer, Belgium 1995), and 
the Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers (1994). 

At my request, the Journal's editor, Joseph Levine has arranged Leonora's 
seventh Sinfonia as a duet for two voices — to the text oiHah, Biti ("Alas, My 
Daughter!"), a Mother's lament on the death of her child — by Judah Halevi, 
who lived in Spain from 1075-1 141 . When I came across this poem in The Pen- 
guin Book of Hebrew Verse, an invaluable anthology compiled and annotated 
by T. Carmi (1981:339), its despairing tone struck me as particularly akin to 
the autumnal mood of Leonora's final Sinfonia. That realization provided the 
missing piece in a project that Levine and I had been discussing for some time: 
setting one of Duarte's instrumental pieces to words. The two voices — male 
or female, or a combination of both — carry the essence of Leonora's flowing 
contrapuntal lines, often semi-canonically, while the piano accompaniment 
embodies elements of the other three viol parts. The pitch has been lowered 
a full tone to accommodate the comfort zone of most voices. 

Victor Tunkel, a London barrister and law lecturer, has had a lifetime involvement in 
Jewish music as an amateur chorister, cantor, cantillator, collector and educator. His 
elegant taste is evidenced by his pairing of the Halevi poem with the Duarte Sonatina. 
His book, The Music of the Hebrew Bible: The Western Ashkenazic Tradition, was 
reviewed in the 2006 Journal. 

Example 1. Duet arranged by Joseph Levine from Leonora Duarte's Sinfonia 7 for 
5 Viols, to Judah Halevi's Hah, Biti ("A Mother's Lament"), which follows on the 
next four pages. 

A Mother's Lament 

1141) Arranged: Joseph A. Levine 

— 1678) after Duarte's 

Sinfonia no. 7 for 5 viols. 

■>f\%,r\1) A MOTHER'S LAMENT 

.iprp* pi tftpa >p>o pKi 
: ^>ni — ^o'i^' i>Hw> "iitw nv 

Andante (J=100) 

Alas, my daughter, have you forgotten 
your home? The coffin bearers have taken 
you to the grave, and I have nothing left of 
you but your memory. When I come to 
greet you, and do not find you, I take pity 
on the dust of your tomb; for death has 
parted us. 

Ha-Derekh Arukah: The Songs of Naomi Shemer 

by Sam Weiss 

Since the legendary songwriter's death, I renewed my acquaintance with the 
Naomi Shemer songs that have traversed the years and the oceans to become 
international hits. I also made my acquaintance with a musical treasure trove 
that was new to me — numerous songs long-celebrated in Israel, but not 
well-known abroad. These discoveries and rediscoveries have been reward- 
ing and reassuring. The feeling of reassurance comes from the realization 
that Shemer's expanse of spirit and humanity has had a broad audience in a 
nation with such a harsh history and (probably) a harsh future. For if there 
is comfort in witnessing Israelis survive and persevere, there is even greater 
solace in knowing that the best parts of their humanity can and will endure 
as well. 

For close to five decades the appeal of Naomi Shemer's works has stayed 
strong due to the craft and clarity of her lyrics and to the charm of her melodies. 
Her audience has been much wider than most singers' because of her long 
career as a songwriter for musicals, recordings, films and television programs. 
A great variety of artists and performing groups have disseminated her sensi- 
tivity and understanding, enabling her sentiments to pervade Israeli society 
even more readily than those of a fine novelist or poet laureate whose works 
- like Shemer's — are part of the national school curriculum. The immediacy 
of her words and music has even forged a bond between the sensibilities of 
Israeli citizens and of Diaspora Jews — and that is doubly reassuring. 

As for the rewards that I have found in her works, that is the subject of the 
rest of this article. In listening to over a hundred compositions and perusing 
many more, I was fully prepared to characterize the "typical" Naomi Shemer 
song. How delightful is the impossibility of such an assignment! Each melody 
rises anew, bringing a fresh imaginative poem to life. At the same time, one 
is touched by a unifying spirit that seems to hover over her entire oeuvre. It 
is a spirit of gentle, pensive optimism, a quasi- religious optimism that takes 
the long view, embracing the bitter along with the sweet (Al Kol Eileh) and 
singing Halleluyah on a never-ending holiday that celebrates everything from 
an infant's first steps to a baker's fresh bread ( Yeish Li Hag). It is a feeling of 
hope that the composer has transposed to her songs from the zemirot sung 
by her father (Shiro Shel Aba) and from her mother's prayerful pose in the 
portrait she keeps on her piano (Dyokan Imi). 

Not too often, however, does Shemer offer us optimism - or any other 
mood or feeling - in its simple unalloyed form. There is frequently a shade 
of doubt, a tinge of sadness, or some other contrasting emotion vying for 
our heart's attention. For example, with a title and a refrain like "You Won't 
Beat Me Down" (Lo T'N atz'hu Oti) we might expect a song of utter triumph. 
Instead, we hear these final verses ' 

In my window are spring and autumn, 1TID1 3^3N "OI^PD 

A rainy day and a scorching day, T\W tiV) fft&H DV1 

Light and darkness, soloist and choir. nbnpai TIT1 ,"lErm TIKI 

It's all mixed up and confused: hTWrO PIT ,33Tjna PIT 

Songs of Lamentation, songs of Hallel; ^H TEP ,PU'p '"W 

And sometimes it's one giant mess. piVltjl JTIK PtePI IT D'DBD 1 ?! 

But suddenly it all gets clear -ffftMi ^ a)iinQ ^ 

And I tell myself: 1Q)N , w ^Wb) 

No, oh no, you won't beat me down! *j^ inxin ah nb nh 

I don't get beaten down so fast! -pD "p-bl *niM DTEMO t& 

When there is little incentive to sing, she admits as much but continues 
to sing nonetheless, as in Hevlei Mashi'ah: 

Sometimes I absorb blow after blow HDa in« PDD :2*ID *JK tWMffl 1 ? 

And when it gets bad and bitter, that's precisely 
When I start to sing: 
"Pre-Messianic tribulations - 
He must be coming any minute!" 

p "h "Vtt 

am K3 pit ran 

Sometimes all that one can do when bad news predominates is to turn lemon 
into lemonade, as in the wry song Ein Li Rega Dal (Never A Dull Moment). 

By the end of the day I was on Cloud Nine - D'jijJz era a TPTT DVn f|to2 

Where else is life this interesting? EM^JBO "|3 *73 D'Ti 312" HS^H 

So I said goodnight and, God willing, D0PI IYWS31 ,312 nh^b 'ma« 

Maybe tomorrow I'll have a boring day. DQ1BPD DT ,l 7 ITiT IHO 'VlM 

Optimism is the reigning spirit even for the dejected characters in Shemer 's 
songs, and they are rarely left in total despondence. The beautiful lament Al 

1 All translations from the Hebrew are by the author. 


Tish'alu Oti (Don't Ask Me) is a catalogue of woes, a tale of songs silenced by 
a guitar that has been shattered against the rocks. But in the final verse our 
erstwhile singer concludes: "Only silence flows, like a river; / From the stones 
on the shore an echo calls. / Perhaps tomorrow I will sing a new song." Even 
the guitar, speaking for itself, says quite plainly in Ani Gitarah: 

iTTD'JI ■>!» 

I-iUlU-'Bl^rQ ^31 piD m*in 

rntra "is 
rnaraon "mbnz *Vn crna vieto 

I am a guitar; 

The wind plays me with the 

change of seasons. 
I am a guitar; 
Somebody strums me with 

changing tunes. 

Never in my life have I given up: 'NOZ PHp N 5 ?^ f"IQ 'S 

Whatever didn't happen in May v^TI dEfH n*ttM hip* 

Will surely happen, God willing, „L„ iy\t^ 
In June or July. 

Optimism is one thing, but unbridled jubilation is quite another - and the 
latter is not at all common in Shemer's works. It is interesting to observe how 
Israel's history and the passing of time temper the artist herself. In 1963 she 
pens the exuberantly confident Mahar (Tomorrow), with its golden apples, 
pealing bells, and the proverbial lion lying with the lamb. We only partly believe 
her when she adds kol zeh eino mashal v'lo halom ("all of this is not a fable 
or a dream"). By 1976, with the passing of many a mohrotayim of travail, she 
offers a less sanguine vision of what we might expect from our tomorrows, 
in Ha-Hagigah Nigmeret (The Party's Over) she writes: 

To rise up tomorrow morning ^^3 ^ nD m pL, 

With a new song in your heart; Ja ^^ T& QJf 

3N23 wis TtrV ,niM miN TSP 1 ? 

To sing it loud, right through the 

To hear flutes in the free-blowing rCVEtm imS Wb^bn VID^b 

wind, niPMiaja 'rnnrfci 

And to start all over again. 

Finally, by 1994 she adopts a more balanced view of the future with this 
refrain of Ha-Kol Patu'ah - 

It's all wide open, it's not too late; 
The mood will improve tomorrow. 
It's possible, It can happen, 
As long as we are here, singing. 

inwto ah iijj ,nwa bin 

nno lEsner rmn axo 

*i»dk nr ,pff nr 

s^n» jko lama iw ^3 

More characteristically, such an ebb and flow of emotions will occur within 
a single song, as in La-Shir ZehK'moLihyot Yardein (To Sing Is Like Being The 
Jordan). The striking title conjures up the positive feelings of flowing energy 
that might be felt by a singer, and that is exactly what we read in the first verse. 
But by the third and final verse we understand the poet's true intention, as 
she follows the metaphor to its grim logical conclusion: 

Your destiny is to expire like the Jordan, 

To be gathered slowly into the Dead Sea, 

In the lowest point on Earth. 

But from the snowy mountaintops, 

In a huge joyful noise, 

Your songs bubble down after you. 

To sing is indeed like being the Jordan. 

pT 103 y\\ib TS1D 

nnon w b« wb vp&sh 

dVtm nnra *-|iQjn oipD3 

sbwn "in i?tno bss 

rfcms nVna n^iona 

nnb 3*350 y*pv yvm 

pT nvrh 103 nr *mh ahn 

Shemer's penchant for emotional complexity is epitomized in Ein Davar, 
whose refrain is the paradoxical statement by Rabbi Menachem Mendel of 
Kotzk, "There is nothing more complete than a broken heart, and no louder 
scream than silence." Shemer mines the poetic potential in this idea, and then 
sets her lyrics of bittersweet melancholy to a melody that moves ambivalently 
between major and minor cadences (Example 1). 

leil a- vi\ 


„ i 

yi- g 


i — 

r Am 

la- ye- led hi- z; 

i- heir n 


•- hi- 



i- ma - 

QT f =F 


not- not la- ye- led mi- div- 

Example 1 . A moonlit evening in spring; before long it will end. 
Mothers warn the child — "Be careful, watch yourself" 
Mothers give the child their honey and their milk; and on the 
other side of the door a white baby -goat awaits him... 

She reserves her final musical judgment on this enigma for the refrain, 
whose upbeat melody transforms Der Kotzker's conundrum into a statement 
of purpose (Example 2): 

Example 2. Ther 

Shemer wrote many poems that were never set to music; she set to music 
poems of other writers; and she translated a number of foreign songs into 
Hebrew - but it would be very wrong to think of her simply as a poet who 
was also a composer: She was a true songwriter, creating wonderful lyrics, 
and tunes that wrap smoothly around the words. As we saw in Ein Davar, a 
songwriter's message is oftentimes not completely contained in the lyrics. This 
is certainly true of many of her songs, in which the whole is frequently differ- 
ent from - and often greater than - the sum of its two parts. To take a well- 
known song as an example: If you recite slowly the lyrics of Od Lo Ahavti Dai 
("Still Haven't Loved Enough") without hearing the familiar snappy melody in 
your ears, you will find that this unrelenting series of short negative sentences 
could just as well have turned into a rather doleful ballad. The joyful melody 
is the "Rashi" that yields the true interpretation of the songwriter's words. I 
tried this exercise of words vs. words-and-music on a number of unfamiliar 

Shemer songs that I learned from the printed page, and have acquired a new 
admiration for her musical magic. 

Naomi Shemer 's first hit song, Zamar Nodeid (The Wandering Minstrel), was 
written in 1958, a time of transition in Israeli popular music. People were still 
singing the old folksongs as well as newer songs about the desert blooming 
into nationhood; and they still sang about the wartime victories and losses of 
1948 and 1956. At the same time, theatrical entertainments were producing 
songs about the ups and downs of life in the new state, and descriptive lyrics 
about various and sundry other situations. In this milieu, Shemer 's song in the 
first person singular was quite novel. It expressed a cheerful universal feeling 
without a hint of the Israeli context in which it was composed: 

The road is long and vast, 

The road is long and quite magnificent. 

Everyone walks along the road 

to the end, 
Everyone walks along the road 

to the bitter end. 

But I, I march by myself - 
Hallelu... Halleluyah... Hallelu... 
And I, I sing the songs of a 

wandering minstrel: 
Hallelu... Halleluyah... Hallelu... 

nan /urn kti nanx -[Tin 

Tin-ram kyi nans -p-n 

noiD ,naiD is nnna trcjbin afria 

nan nsio id nnna a'abin nnia 

nsns nab ,nab »a» ba« fin hm 


nnu nar "te? »a« n»i ,->m nan 

Shemer 's compositions were a breath of fresh air melodically as well. Even 
her earliest tunes have a "pop music" sensibility and generally do not sound 
like the waltzes, tangos and other European styles that served as popular music 
models in the late 1950s. Nor do they sound like the classic Israeli folksongs 
- with their sequential melodies in minor keys and their syncopated Hora 
rhythms - or their musical offshoots favored in those years by singers like 
Shoshana Damari and Yaffa Yarkoni. Here, for instance are sections from two 
Naomi Shemer songs written in 1958, an atmospheric one about Tel-Aviv, 
"The White Town" (Hair Ha-L'vanah) (Example 3), and one about coy and 
undecided No'a (Example 4). Both are interesting melodies that draw their 
interest from - and the listener's attention to - equally engaging lyrics. 

nab k'mo - tarn kotz - fah_ kino - tarn shot - fan k'mo - tam y 

Example 3. Out of foam, wave and cloud I built myself a white city — 
just as frothy, flowing and beautiful. 

J=75 Freely 

Example 4. Noa was born in afield between grass and stone; 

she was like a drop of dew. She picked a daisy in the field and 
plucked one petal at a time: Yes or no, yes or no —a thousand and one 
songs, Noa — Yes or no, oh my petals — Yes or no, or maybe. 
There are occasional exceptions to Shemer's forward-looking composi- 
tional approach. For Kibui Orot (Lights Out), a 1958 song about a military 
encampment in the desert at nightfall, she writes a melody reminiscent of 
the old "camel caravan" songs (Example 5). 

Cm B' El 

Example 5. Night has come to the desert; smoke rises from the campfires 
and the sound of drums is fading. 
The red-faced moon is budding over the prairies. 

When setting the works of other poets, Shemer will sometimes favor the 
older melodic structures, as in Rahel's poem Zemer (Example 6). 

Example 6. Morning and evening to you and about you my poems sang. 

Slorni mid calm, joy and tears; hurting an, -lire and pain. 

Shaul Tchernichovsky's Hoi Artzi Molad'ti (O, My Homeland), which 
looks back to the days of yore, is fitted with a suitably old-fashioned tonality 
(Example 7). 

Example 7. Monasteries, a mound, a gravestone; clay dome on a house, 
a settlement not settled; olive trees in a row. 

However, the same poet's timeless Omrim Yeshnah Eretz (They Tell Of A 
Land) is given an entirely different musical treatment, with a particularly 
majestic second strain (Example 8). 

Example 8. A land where every man's hope will come to pass. Enter all who will. 
One man was met by Rabbi Akiva. 

As to the other side of the songwriter's craft, Shemer's words are truly 
meant to be sung. They generally add up to only a few verses, with rhyming 
lines that scan well metrically. In addition, the poems often have a narra- 
tive, conversational, or other dynamic quality that propels them into our 
consciousness and onto our lips. Her biblical allegory Kad Ha-Kemah is a 
wonderful example in this regard. It begins in the first person; it proceeds 
to tell a story in the third person; it cites the words of God to Elijah as its 
refrain; the last line of every verse leads directly into this quote (each time 
with a different verb); and at the end, the biblical episode is brought to bear 
on contemporary Israeli concerns. Remarkably, this feat is accomplished in 
only four brief verses: 

I'm reading in the Book of Kings, O'S^D "ISM jnp UN 

In Chapter Seventeen, "iE?J)~!"IJJ3E?n Q1B2 

I'm reading about a man of God ^j-^L^j-j ^^ L,jj ^p ^ 

Who said: ««. nmt 

The flour-jar shall not be depleted, 
And the oil-jug shall not run dry, 
Before the rain will come 
Upon the face of the earth. 

And when the rivers run dry, 
And the rain is late in coming, 
That man drew these words 
From his heart: 
The flour-jar... 

iwtti ah pan nnDsi 

noa my ia>N ns 

na-iNp: 'ia h$ 

s^mn 1BO'' TOK31 

tvah firaia -iacm 

c^an n« axn Kinn itrwi 

„.nDpn 12 

Perhaps that man understood hardship, HDnO BT" Kin" U-N" -blfrt 

Perhaps he tasted of the bitter herb, -iq EHItPB 020 ^lN 

Perhaps when his soul engulfed him mm 1'VlJ epSHVQ "biN 

He sang once more: nen 3® Kin 

The flour-jar... ,„nOpn 13 

And in these difficult days, D , ff p n n L, N - D ,p, 31 

Days of no dew and no rain, ^a<3 ^ni |jo Sn , 3'' 

I always return to that man Minn &' -N 1 ? inn -it* Ton 

And I remember - law 'JKl 

The flour-jar... ...nDpn 13 

Shemer's lyrics make use of other structural elements as singing "hooks." 
Often the opening verse is echoed, reformulated, or restated in the final verse. 
Another technique she uses is the "dual refrain" - that is, a recurring phrase 
that weaves through the verses and also forms part of the refrain proper. The 
words lu y'-hi junction this way in the famous song by that title. Every third 
line of the song is kol she-n'vakeish lu y'-hi, including the refrain, which is 

If only, if only, oh, if only... ^, ^ S;N ^, )L , ,_„ )U 

All that we hope for... If only! ' ^ ^ '& hi 

A similar example is Al Kol Eileh (For All Of These), a song that repeats 
a number of words and phrases throughout, albeit in an asymmetrical pat- 
tern. Such devices can turn a great song into a hit - witness the continued 
popularity of both Lu Y'-hi and Al Kol Eileh. 

Zamar Nodeid not only paved the way for greater creativity in Israeli popu- 
lar lyrics, but also furnished its composer with a metaphor that would be a 
leitmotiv in her works to come: "ha-derekh arukah" — "the long road." It not 
only finds full expression as the theme of many songs, it also occurs as words 
and phrases within a large number of other songs. These combine to make 
"the long road" a literary trope that permeates the complete cycle of Naomi 
Shemer's songs. 

Songs that embody this theme explicitly include the many "road songs" like 
Ha-Tiyul Ha-Gadol (The Long Hike) andHayalim Yats'uLa-Derekh (Soldiers 
Enroute) as well as songs of flying through the air - Al Kanfei Ha-Kesef (On 
Silvery Wings), Banayikh Mei-Rahok (Your Sons From Afar). There are also 
songs of journeying towards the beloved - El BorotHa-Mayim (To The Water 
Wells), of awaiting the beloved's return - Ha-Hayal Shell Hazar (My Soldier Is 
Back) and of leaving and returning - Anahnu Mei-Oto Ha -K'far (We're From 

The Same Village). The starting points or destinations of the journeys are not 
always made clear, as in Shemer's parable Ha '-Orei'ah (The Guest) (Example 
12), nor are the journeys easily accomplished, as in this song: 

That's a sign we have not yet arrived, IJJfJrl N 1 ? inpE? |2'S 

And the horizon is still far away; pim "IIP pfllMPTl 

And your heart is still open fflriB 1*713 ~p ,L "'l 

To the four corners of the wind. nini*l!*l RSTTM h& 

And we must continue walking, firs*" 1 ? *|Ti'I*}!"I*" T1S1 

And we must continue marching, Til'sb f&JSff} T1S1 
And the road continues to be long. rDllX na»TO Ttf) "Him 

It is noteworthy that the only translation from Yiddish that Shemer pub- 
lished was her version of Itzik Manger's song Oyfn VegShteytA Boym (Near 
The Road There Is A Tree). Perhaps she was drawn to this piece while setting 
to music Natan Alterman's poem Al Eim Ha-Derekh (At The Crossroads), 
which shares with Manger's work a common source in the similarly titled 
Oyfn Veg Shteyt A Boym, a short Yiddish folksong about traveling to Zion. 
But the symbol of the road can hardly be coincidental, and must certainly 
have figured in her choice. 

The marching, traveling, or journeying metaphor also appears in a wide 
variety of songs that are not explicitly based on the derekh arukah theme, yet 
contain this idea in a supporting role. Following are but a few examples: Al Kol 
Eileh has its "man returning home from a great distance," while in Lu Y'-hi it is 
"the end of summer, the end of the road, Allow them to return back here." At 
the beginning of Orf-LoA/zavri Dai, these opening words seem to encapsulate 
the point of all the variegated imagery in the rest of the song: "I have not yet 
determined where the road will lead me, or where I'm headed." 

Mahar, that rousing anthem to optimism, derives its vigor not from the 
"thousand pealing bells" but from its opening "fantastic voyage" - 

Tomorrow, maybe we will sail in boats fflJ'BDS rU'^BS '''TIN *ff7D 

From the coast of Eilat to the Ivory Coast; instr **in *TJ* *-r?*S *<"T1D 

And load the old war ships *1 Wn filMfiEflBPI ""JJ1 

With oranges. aHt-Tlian tt*W5* 

In Anashim Tovim, one of the songs that she recorded, Shemer sings about 
how we are constantly benefiting from so many "Good People" all around us. 
And guess where these good souls are to be found... 

There are good people along the ro; 
Real beautiful people. 
Good people know the way, 
And they're the ones to walk with. 

"I*nn BXDio d'sib b's^n 

11«a D'SIB D'SfSK 

*pnn ns a^nr 0*210 bi?ik 

"tijjs 1 : ib'sn bjtni 

In Dyokan Imi we are made to see the portrait of Shemer's mother, and 
how it inspires the poet's journey through life: 

Like towards an adventure, 
Like towards some distant road 
That beckons and waits; 
There are still some surprises left in her Is 
My mother's face is raised heavenwards, 
Full of possibilities, full of hope, 
Towards that infinite future 
that has not yet arrived. 

npnsnn b» ids bm 

npim "|Ti iPM hx 

rortDi nnejDE? 

P*tb ,np*ra v manem 

o"D»n hn spin *dn [pin 

rrrpn xhc ,rYrvffB/ti x'ra 

«; a*iQ» ^ar-Nn vmn Vk 

The great span and indeterminate nature of Naomi Shemer's derekh arukah 
can easily turn it into a metaphor for the chronicles oiMedinat Yisrael - which 
may help explain the comp elling and epic quality of some of her imagery. This 
connection was movingly expressed in 1995, when Shemer translated and 
set to music Walt Whitman's poem "O Captain, My Captain" (written upon 
the assassination of Abraham Lincoln) in homage to the slain Yitzhak Rabin. 
Upon hearing//o RavHoveil one feels that the composer is writing as a fellow 
voyager on Israel's Ship of State, and the effect is powerful. 

If there is one song that sums up all of the literal and figurative voyages 
and journeys symbolized in Shemer's work, it would have to be Simanei 
Ha-Derekh (Signs Along The Road) - 

If I've lost the way -pin TIN TITTSE? ON 

Familiar to me all these years, B'JMB mSlDfi 

Here and there on the side of the road *p"7Pl "Tit 3 BtPl PIS 

There still are some signposts. CID'D ,! ? HKEf J 

Here's one arrow, rflfclff run THN {*H 

Drawn in white chalk: ; p 1 ? -pJO "V1SD 

Follow the wind - nnn TIK f b "j 1 ? 

Two-and-a-quarter steps from here. ]N3D 3J2H1 MIl'Ta Till* 

Somewhere on that road there is singing, "]"VtZ 17 "116? £'&!2 *M 

Somewhere a bell is ringing; pSBS IS 1 CB'tt 'X 

From anywhere, go back home rtJT3n ~2Y& a^E 1 ^ 

When the time is right. jian JDT3 

I am not alone on that road TVT3 '3K T2? N? 

That leads back to my home; *n*3 7N tabvtti 

There's a friend or two U n iW IN nn« T3M BT 

Who are going home with me. »rr*t HirSTl B*371l-» 

And in the setting sun, fiJJplE?n &D&31 

From the sound of the bells, a^llDBS'lllili 

They can figure out rii jj gJ L ) WT Qrr 

AU the signs for me. B'ia'BP! bl T\» *) 
Somewhere on that road... 

,..:■;•: -?< 

Naomi Shemer's output was quite wide-ranging; it includes children songs, 
novelty songs, songs about puppy love and romantic love - along with the 
many subjects we have already discussed. Yet despite the wide range and 
approachable quality of her lyrics - and despite the universality presaged in 
Zamar Nodeid - she is not a "universal" poet or composer. She is a palpably 
Israeli songwriter, closely tied to Israel's history and daily life, incorporating 
Israeli names, places, objects and themes throughout her work, and writing 
melodies that helped define the very genre of Israeli music. 

She was in touch with enduring Jewish themes no less than with contem- 
porary national concerns, writing Jewish holiday songs for children (Pesah 
Kan, Neir Rishon Shel Hanukkah), sardonic commentaries and takeoffs on 
Jewish holiday songs (G'di Ehad, Mi Yadlik) as well as many songs that quote 
extensively from Tanakh. Some of the latter have clearly delineated biblical 
themes, such as Kad Ha-Kemah, cited above. Often such a piece will have 
an ironic or even onfrontational stance. Al Naharot Bavel is a biting critique 
of Israel's Yordim who prefer to sing about Israel while living by the Rivers of 
Babylon. Her concluding lines are trenchant indeed: 

Where is Tzvikah, Where is Hayyim, Q'Tl ["JB'K ^'•as ilS'N 

Where are all the guys? ?emnan ba rtS'K 

They're living By the Rivers of Babylon an W3&V bl2 fiinni Vjl 

And all together, this what they sing: - n ,_ iB> *p "I1T31 

"There we sat and wept waa CJ i:atr HE?" 

And sang rounds, papa UIDr Qi 

As we remembered, remembered Zion." "fV3t nN 13^313 U"13ta 

They sure are remembering Zion. Qn; , 1T ^^ ^ m 

Zion remembers them as well, 
With the same melody. 
She waited Two Thousand Years; 
She is still waiting. 

man oniK p*x ai 
nrjjon nnwa 

i-imao pnu sen 

Akeidat Yitzhakbegins with a paraphrase of B'reishit 22:2-3, describing the 
binding of Isaac, and ends with a challenging tone reminiscent of Levi-Yitzhak 
of Berditchev's peremptory songs addressed to the Almighty: 

Even if we lived seven-fold to old age, ppui (TTU »3«? BN a: 

We will not forget that the knife was raised. |*3bri *jJ1il "a nat^i N 5 ? 

We will not forget Your son, -p'a ITK M31M H 5 ? 

Your only one, -[-prr ri« 

Whom we loved - 133!T» *W« 

We will not forget Yitzhak. pns* nN POC2 N 5 ? 

But regardless of its theme, many a Naomi Shemer song is laced through 
with biblical vocabulary and metaphor. For example, within the brooding 
songMah Sh'lomeikh Ahot (What's New, Sister?) we find an arresting poetic 
homily on the verse from Psalm 126, Ha-zor'im b'-dim'ah b'-rinah yiktsoru 
("May those who sowed in tears reap in joy") - 

There's one thing I already naaff "NIX iaT W 

know by heart: fiB" 1 ?!) '•h JI1T 

Whatever is not born through tears yana ibia nb& HD 

Is not worth much. n3"in mi"-' tih 

Whatever is not born through tears SNOna *lb)2 Kb"*? ifQ 

Will not be brought in through song, 1012 IHV tlh KT! 

And will not bring healing. K£nD ^^ ^ 

In eight lines from Al Kanfei Ha-Kesef, a song about the I.D.F. Air Force 
pilots, we find no fewer than four biblical allusions: 

2 The sea has fled and turned backward, niMN ;iD r "i Q'tt DJ 

And the river towards dry land. flSTI — TTUIT) 

My brother flies, his face toward the light, "TO* 1 ? VIEl TIN DD 

3 And his banner over me is love. ninN Tl" "h?T\ 

4 The ladder's legs are on the ground, nOliO thn a^lDH 

But its head is in the skies of war; HOn^ai"! ^0^3 ffittTl *|N 

My brother flies toward the sun, nam bV2 b& "nN DD 

5 As the sparks fly upward. pyg m»3JP P|tyTU33 

Moving beyond the Bible, we have a song like Arba'ah Ahim, which de- 
constructs a la Itzik Manger the Passover narrative of the Four Sons. Shivhei 
Ma'oz takes similar liberties with the refrain of the Hanukkah hymn Ma'oz 
Tzur. The words of the iconic Yerushalayim Shel Zahav may not appear to 
have any specifically Jewish antecedents, until we realize that a "Jerusalem 
of Gold" was an ancient Jewish ornamental headdress that is mentioned in 
the Talmud (N'darim 50a) and other early sources. 

Of course, it is extremely hard to tease apart the "Jewish" from the "Israeli" 
in an artist like Shemer, for whom the Bible and ancillary texts need not be 
religiously significant, but simply part of her nation's literary patrimony. 
Nevertheless, perhaps we may take her words at face value when she brings 
the words of Ezekiel (16: 6) to bear on those who have sacrificed life and limb 
in Israel's tragedies, writing in one of her last songs - 

The ancient words ilp'PIJJP! D'^'On 

Give me strength; HID *3 numi 

In the ancient sounds DpTWPI ni71p2 

I will find healing. NB1D NJCaN 

They help me live, TWrb "h D'TflJJ an 

They help me grow, film* 1 ? ,l 7 CTTO an 

To create a better world - PIB* 1PIV 0*718 NTO 1 ? 

Shir HaShirim 2: 4 
B'-Reishit 28: 12 
Iyov 5: 7 

I passed by you and saw you 

Lying in your blood, 

And I said: "In your blood, live!" 

Live! Live! In your blood you shall live! 

And I said: "In your blood, live!" 

And suddenly above my head 

A rainbow opens up. 

A multi-colored fan spreads out, 

Promising life, 

Promising hope, 

And peace and security and kindness. 

-["Din nooianD 

"H "["D-13 -p 1DW1 

"n -["Din *\h tbini 

mp nnnai 
neniu marax riEfao 

nnpn m&3B 

The question of Naomi Shemer as a Jewish melodist is of interest to 
hazzanim no less than the question of Shemer as a Jewish poet. The examples 
that one can adduce are not many, but are significant nonetheless. The biblical 
song Akeidat Yitzhak that we discussed above is set to a melody that echoes 
various cantillation and prayer modes. For the stage production of Mendele 
Moykher-Sforim's The Travels of Benjamin the Third, Shemer wrote Shirat 
Ha'-Asavim (Song Of The Grasses), based on the words of Rabbi Nahman 
of Bratslav (Example 9). Her T'hillim mode melody is pure T'fillah; and 
Shemer's own recording of the song has all the hallmarks of an affecting 
Ba'alat T'fillah. 

Example 9. Be aware that every single shepherd has his own individual song. 
Be aware that every blade of grass has its own individual melody, 
And from the song of the grasses comes the shepherd's melody. 
There are several songs in which the composer highlights the narrative 
quality and textual rhythms of a passage by means of a recitative-like melody. 
Such passages cannot avoid associations with Daven'n (Example 10). 


o many beautiful things did my eye 

Example 10. When the Nahal captured Sin 
see! For instance... 
Sometimes the "T'fillah effect" is a subtle one, but it is always a valid poetic 
gesture, as in Mah Sh'lomeikh Ahot, a rather dark song that lets in a fleeting 
moment of light by way of its refrain "You have me; I have you; we have each 
other." The music seems to halt for this moment of respite, and the words are 
chanted rather than sung (Example 11). 

lakh yeish o - ti li yeish o - takk la - nu yeish 

Example 11. You have me; I have you; we have each other. 

Similarly, there is a didactic quality to Shemer's parable Ha-Orei'ah (The 
Guest) that is reinforced by its urgent yet flowing chant (Example 12). 

mah na- tzi- 

Example 12. If at the gate stands a guest who landed from overseas — 

What shall we serve that guest when he arrives from there? 

In trying to assess the "Jewish" nature of Naomi Shemer's metaphorical 
songs, I am essentially searching for a metaphor of my own - something 
on which to pin the faint aura of sanctity that suffuses so many of her finest 

songs. Be it a secular sanctity or a religious one, it is one worth treasuring. 
This kol d'mamah dakah sings most persuasively to me in B'khol Shanah 
Ba-Stav Giora (Every Year In Autumn, Giora), a song that is not typical of 
her works, but which best captures the supernal aspect of Shemer's poetry 
and music. Her compositional skills are quite evident in this elegy in blank 
verse to a young victim of the Yom Kippur War, Giora Shoham. The melody 
almost takes on the character of an art song, waxing and waning like an ach- 
ing heart, sounding unmistakably like a tender prayer - not so much in her 
invocation of Psalm 121, as in the plaintive repetition of the words b'-khol 
shanah ba-stav (Example 13). 

i mwm m i P^H ' P 

Example 13 . [Every year in autumn, Giora, the wild wind in my garden 
nips off the very best roses.] 
Every year. Every year in autumn, Giora, I will lift up my eyes 
to the hills, from whence cometh my help. 
Every year in autumn. 

The song continues in a passage laden with religious feeling, adding the 
names of comrades in the daven'n manner of a hazzan chanting anEHMalei 
Rahamim. This passage cadences on the word n'dirim, eerily recalling the 
familiar Memorial Prayer cadence on the word maz-hirim (Example 14). 

^ ' Pp^H Pill | P^ -n J- } j m 

a - tah ein-kha T'-vad gi- o ■ 

residing reside lovingkindness and grace. And there Yehiam still sings 
and cheers; Tuviah still grows rare black irises. 

Shemer reveals her intimate relationship with the biblical text in this poi- 
gnant turn: "And there you are, and there the many young men are, about 
whom I would say that my help cometh from them." (Example 15). 

Example 15. And there you are, and there the many young men are, 

about whom I would say that my help cometh from them. 

Finally, the poet skillfully modulates the mournful mood in a very personal 
reflection: "In the autumn of every year I ask my soul, 'When will I arrive 
there, to rest with you?' And the pain in my heart lifts." (Example 16). 

Example 16. In the autumn of every year I ask my soul, "When willl a 
to rest with you?" And the pain in my heart lifts. 

On June 26, 2004 Naomi Shemer's soul did finally come to rest. Y'-hi 
zikhrah barukh. 

Sam Weiss, hazzan of the Jewish Community Center ofParamus, NJ, is a recitalist, 
lecturer, and Jewish Music consultant in the fields of liturgical, Yiddish, andHasidic 
song. A frequent contributor to the Journal, his article on Training Children with 
Special Needs for Bar/Bat Mitzvah appeared in the 2006 issue. 

The Piyyut Craze: Popularization of Mizrahi 
Religious Songs in the Israeli Public Sphere 

By Galeet Dardashti 

It's a beautiful fall Monday night on Emek Refaim, the trendiest street in The 
German Colony, Jerusalem's mostyuppyish neighborhood. Dozens of people, 
mostly in their 20s, 30s and 40s, pile into the large multi-purpose room at 
Merkaz Tarbut LaNoar, "The Cultural Center for Youth"— men, women, 
Ashkenazim (Jews of European background), Mizrahim (Jews of Middle 
Eastern or North African background), religious, and secular. After more and 
more enter, however, a small crowd is turned away. "I'm so sorry, but there's 
no more room this semester. We are completely booked. We'll be adding an 
extra class soon though, and we can put you on the list for next semester." 
As the 80 or so people in attendance mingle, snack on cookies, and wait for 
the event to begin, there is an electric energy in the room, as if the crowd is 
anticipating a performance or lecture from a famous celebrity. 

After some introductions, however, a haredi (ultra orthodox) Moroccan 
Jew in "typical" religious garb— black suit, white shirt, and thick beard 1 — ap- 
proaches the front of the room and sings a few verses of a beautiful piyyut 
(religious devotional poem) from the Jewish Moroccan- Andalusian tradition. 
He begins the piece with an intricate mawal, an Arab vocal improvisation. 
His flexible voice rises in chanting the Hebrew, his elaborate ornamentations 
often stretching single words to last up to fifteen seconds. "Companion of 
my soul, merciful Father, Bring your servant close to Your will. Your servant 
will speed like a gazelle to bow down before Your glory. Your graciousness is 
like the nectar of honey. Choicest of flavor." After he finishes, the group ap- 
plauds, and some ululate. But this is not really a performance. The students 
have come to learn these piyyutim and sing them themselves. 

1 The dress I have described used to be solely Ashkenazi ultra orthodox garb im- 
ported from Europe, but the politically powerful Sephardi religious group, Shas, has 
adopted this style of dress over the last few decades. There is no historical precedent 
for religious Sephardim or Mizrahim wearing such clothes. 


Maimon Cohen, the payy'tan (or one trained in the art ofsingingpiyyutim), 
then teaches thepiyyutline by line. "First me, then you," he says. The members 
of the group repeat each line, some much more accurately and in tune than 
others, but all enthusiastically. Once the song is roughly learned, the payy'tan 
asks for volunteers to sing solos, and men and women in the group do their 
best to imitate the highly skilled melismatic singing of the payy'tan. 

This is the basic format for Kehillot Sharot (literally "Communities Sing,") 
and Yedidi HaShakhahta (known as "Speaking Poetry" in English), two in- 
formal courses that have sprung up in the last four years in major cities such 
as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya, Beer Sheva and others throughout Israel. 
The presence and teaching of these Mizrahi piyyutim in the public sphere is 
totally unprecedented in Israel; until now, there was a clean delineation be- 
tween the self-described secular Israelis and those who consider themselves 
religious. One would not normally expect to find a haredi payy'tan (who is 
always male) who would agree to teach in a forum where men and women 
sing together, and certainly none would allow for women's soloing 2 . Equally 
notable is the wider public's interest in Mizrahi culture, for although over half 
of the Israeli population consists of Mizrahi Jews and Arabs, until recently 
Middle Eastern and Arab musics were marginalized and therefore largely 
absent from the Israeli public sphere. The surprising popularity of Mizrahi 
religious songs in the Israeli public sphere over the past four years is the most 
recent and unusual trend in the increasing Israeli interest in Middle Eastern 
musical styles. 

In The Expediency of Culture: Uses of Culture in the Global Era, George 
Yiidice argues that unlike in several decades past where culture was admin- 
istered and wielded on a national scale, in today's global era, culture is coor- 
dinated on many levels, both locally and supra-nationally, by corporations, 
private foundations, and the international non-government sector (Yiidice 
2003). Israel conforms to this model. Although the Israeli state continues to 
sponsor some cultural activities, both government indifference to the arts 

2 The religious prohibition against women singing in the company of men (other 
than a daughter or wife) stems from interpretation of the phrase "Kol be-Ishah Erva" 
(Babylonian Talmud, B'rakhot 24A), generally translated as "the voice of a woman is 
erotic." Men are therefore prohibited from hearing the singing of women. Even in the 
Talmud itself, there are disagreements as to how this prohibition should be applied. 
Some argued that the prohibition only applied during formal prayer. Religious Jews 
today interpret kol ishah quite differently, but Haredim generally apply it most strictly, 
and will not listen to a woman's singing voice in live or recorded music, even if she 
sings as part of an ensemble with other singers or musicians. 


and the need to increase government spending on security (Ben Ami: 1996) 
have gradually led to a dwindling of state-sponsored cultural arts programs 
within Israel. 

Musicians and cultural arts programmers within Israel, therefore, have in- 
creasingly had to turn to individuals and foundations both locally and abroad. 
All of these privately-funded organizations and institutions have their own 
visions and agendas for Israel, and many have taken an interest in Arab and 
other Middle Eastern music in order to promote their particular goals. When 
cultural policy is diffuse and no longer largely under government control, 
corporations, private organizations, non-governmental organizations, and 
even ordinary citizens have the power to influence the cultural landscape. 
Yiidice views as dangerous the "globalization of culture," in which these types 
of organizations fund the specific cultural programs they deem "worthy" and 
"ethical," because such "cultural practice runs the risk of responding to per- 
formative injunctions... that are at least partly scripted" (Yiidice 2003: 156). 

In chronicling the recent popularization of Mizrahi piyyutim in Israel I 
will explain how the decision of a single private foundation (endowed by an 
American Jewish philanthropist) to heavily fund an extensive program to 
teach Israelis— secular and religious, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi— to learn and 
appreciate Judeo- Arabic religious songs has engendered a "craze" for piyyu- 
tim that shows no signs of waning. I will demonstrate that the way in which 
this phenomenon has grown in Israel is representative of the way culture 
is often "used" in this global era, highlighting the cultural complexities and 
contradictions that arise as this music is suddenly voraciously consumed by 
Israeli society. 

The History of Piyyutim in Israel 

The practice of composing religious poems began as early as the sixth cen- 
tury in Palestine, but the golden age ion piyyutim arrived in Spain during the 
Middle Ages, when Jews lived under Arab rule and Arabic was the dominant 
language. Arabic poetry also flourished during this period, contributing to 
a cultural environment that heavily influenced famous Jewish poets such as 
Moshe Ibn Ezra (1055-1135) and Yehuda Halevi (1075-1141). The religious 
poems they and others composed described the faith, longing, love, suffering, 
and sorrow of the Jews, who were living mostly in the diaspora. The piyyut 
traditions varied from one country to the next but always served to maintain 
the sense of Jewish community, often strengthening hopes of the eventual 
return to Zion (Scheindlin 1999). 

Beginning in the 16th century, piyyutim served to help maintain Jewishness 
amidst assimilation. Many payy'tanim living in the Middle East and North 
Africa therefore composed their Hebrew poems to the tunes of secular and 
popular songs (originally in Arabic, Turkish, Persian, etc.) in order to keep 
the piyyutim relevant to younger people. 3 Such piyyut traditions continued 
to thrive into the middle of the 20th century 4 

Although some Middle Eastern Jews in the diaspora were very assimilated 
and secular before coming to Israel (e.g., many of the Iraqi Jews), most came 
from religious communities immersed in Jewish life, a life in which the tradi- 
tion of piyyutim marked almost every life-cycle event. Following the difficult 
immigration of most Mizrahim to Israel in the early 1 950s, many communities 
were dispersed in squalid transit towns (ma'abarot) and became disconnected 
from many of their former traditions, including their piyyut practices. A few 
payy'tanim 5 worked hard to reinstate traditions that had fallen out of practice. 
Although some communities did maintain their piyyut repertoires to some 
extent 6 , by the late 1980s there were few young Israelis who possessed a deep 
knowledge of piyyutim. 

Yedidi HaShakhahta? 

Rabbi David Buzaglo was the most renowned Moroccan Jewish piyyut 
composer and singer of the 20th century. His son, Meir Buzaglo, a prominent 
Professor of Jewish philosophy at the Hebrew University and a Mizrahi activist, 
happens to serve on the Avi Chai Foundation's Board of Trustees. Avi Chai, a 
private foundation endowed by an American Jewish philanthropist: 

seeks to encourage those of the Jewish faith towards greater commitment 
to Jewish observance and lifestyle by increasing their understanding, 
appreciation and practice of Jewish traditions, customs and laws [and] 

3 Rabbi Yisrael Najara, one of the greatest and most prolific composers of piyyutim, 
is said to be one of the first to base his piyyutim on Arabic and Turkish secular songs 
in the 16th century. 

4 Even before Iraqis immigrated to Israel in the early 1950s, the Baghdadi bakkashot 
tradition was already rarely practiced due to assimilation. Unlike the other traditions, 
the Baghdadi bakkashot were traditionally chanted every night, which made it a more 
difficult practice to maintain (see note 13 below). 

5 Most notably, Rabbi David Buzaglo, the most renowned Moroccan Jewish poet 
and singer of the 20th century, who emigrated to Israel in 1962 and worked hard to 
revive Moroccan piyyut practices there. 

6 Most notably, the Syrian Adas Synagogue in Jerusalem, which has— until now- 
preserved the Aleppo Bakkashot tradition. 


to encourage mutual understanding and sensitivity among Jews of 
different religious backgrounds and commitments to observance (Avi 
Chai Foundation website 2005). 

In 2000, Meir Buzaglo had an idea. He felt that his University offered too 
little in the way of Jewish culture. He proposed exposing Jewish students 
to Mizrahi piyyutim and approached Hebrew University's Beit Hillel about 
partnering with Avi Chai. Hillel, The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life, 
is an international organization that encourages Jewish college students (at 
more than 500 colleges and universities worldwide) to explore and celebrate 
their Jewish identity. Their collaboration with Avi Chai was therefore a logi- 
cal pairing. 

After a successful fledgling pilot project during the 2002-2003 academic 
year, Avi Chai and Beit Hillel initiated Yedidi HaShakhahta? ("My friend, 
have you forgotten?") 7 a project that offers weekly piyyut classes with trained 
payy'tanim for small groups of students. In addition, the project offers free 
monthly public concerts in which a prominent Israeli ethnic, pop or rock 
musician and a leading payy 'tan share in an evening of music. The two don't 
necessarily collaborate, but ideally there is some shared time. 

I learned about these concerts at Beit Hillel at the beginning of my field- 
work in March 2003 from a friend in Jerusalem who was studying at Hebrew 
University and had seen flyers promoting a concert. The event featured Yair 
Dalai, Israel's best known Ethnic music performer; Moshe Habusha, one of 
Israel's widely known Mizrahi payy'tanim; and the Mizrahi storyteller/co- 
median Jackie Levy. I was living in Tel Aviv at the time and had just begun 
taking Middle Eastern music courses at Yair Dalal's studio. 

The concert took place at Beit Hillel's social hall. It was clear from the start 
that in spite of the notoriety of the performers, this concert would be quite 
informal. There were cookies and sodas for people to snack upon before the 
performance began, and the several page-long 8 Vi" x 11" program featured 
lyrics to all of the piyyutim to be sung that evening. The elderly Iraqi man 
sitting on my right donned a knitted kippah, s as did perhaps 30% of the 

7 Yedidi Ha-Shakhahta is the name of a well-known piyyut written by the famous 
payy'tan and poet Yehuda Halevi of 11th century Spain. The name for the program 
was also chosen as a play on words to remind Israelis that they had abandoned and 
"forgotten" their piyyut practices and heritage. 

8 Kippah is the Hebrew word for a religious head covering, sometimes known as a 
yarmulke or skullcap. The type of kippah that one wears in Israel indicates the religious 
group with which one identifies himself. A knitted kippah represents Datee Leumi, or 
Religious Zionist affiliation, a Modern-Orthodox Zionist group. 


others in attendance, and another 10% wore Bukhari kippot 9 . Though some 
were beyond middle age, most of the audience members were college-aged 
students, half of whom dressed as secular Israelis. By the time the concert 
began, the audience numbered over 200 people. 

After a few introductions, Yair Dalai and Moshe Habusha took the stage. 
Although both men are second-generation Mizrahim of Iraqi Jewish lineage, 
their stage personas are quite different. Dalai wore fashionable circular 
spectacles, and his long, curly black hair was pulled back in a fuchsia pony- 
tail holder. His loose-fitting sharwal kameez (white blouse) extended to his 
knees, and his black flowing pants tapered at the ankles with a colorful lining 
of flowers; his feet were adorned in brown sandals. The stern Habusha wore 
a dark-colored suit and black kippah. The two played an instrumental piece 
together — Habusha on oud, Dalai on violin, and additional performers on 
bass and percussion. They also performed a few piyyutim together, alternating 
on verses. Then, each played some of his own pieces. Habusha performed a 
few solo piyyutim of his choice, introduced with the intricate spur-of-the- 
moment mawalim for which he is famous. Dalai performed a Bedouin song 
in Arabic and an instrumental self-composed piece that combined Eastern 
modes and rhythms with a bit of bluegrass fiddling. 

In between every few songs, Jackie Levy, a Mizrahi Jew of Iraqi background, 
known for poking fun of his Mizrahi identity, told stories. His theme that 
evening was the unclear boundary between the sacred and the mundane, 
which, he explained, was the perfect way to frame piyyutim. All of his jokes 
that evening centered around Mizrahim — often in their relations with Arabs. 
In one story, he spoke of "the good old days" in Syria when the religious Jews 
(who took their Arab music very seriously) corrected the muezzin 10 when he 
didn't sing the maqaam (Arab mode) correctly. In another, Levy described 
the raucous singing emitting from a Moroccan Jewish wedding in Jerusalem, 
where Israeli-Palestinian workers outside listened on. When a few Mizrahim 
exited the hall, one of the workers exclaimed, "Wow, you guys still do that 
one? I think that was a song that our grandparents sang!" The delighted crowd 
laughed, clapped, and sang the piyyutim along with the performers. 

9 Kippot, plural for kippah. Bukhari kippot are large woven kippot which much 
less clearly mark a religious affiliation. These are worn by younger Israelis— both 
Ashkenazim and Mizrahim— who are generally claiming a newer, more progressive, 
and often a more "spiritual" form of Judaism. For young Mizrahim, this is also often 
symbolic of the roots with which they are connecting, even if they are not Bukharan. 

10 The muezzin chants the call to prayer for Muslims five times a day. 


This was my introduction to the popularization of Mizrahi piyyutim in 
Israel. I soon learned of the ambitious Kehillot Sharot project, apiyyut ini- 
tiative directed not primarily at Israeli university students but at Israelis of 
all ages. 

Kehillot Sharot 

Yossi Ohana, the founder of Kehillot Sharot, was born in the Atlas Mountains 
in Morocco in a Berber community. His father was 67 at the time, his mother 
decades younger. When he and his family immigrated to Israel in the 1950s, 
he was four years old. They lived in a development town with mostly other 
low-income Mizrahim, but as he grew, it embarrassed him when his parents 
played Arab music in the house: he preferred The Beatles. 

In the early 1990s his brother took him to a concert of Andalusian piyyutim 
in Caesaria. He was moved by the intricacy and beauty of the songs, and by 
the size of the crowd — there were thousands of Moroccans. "I couldn't be- 
lieve that this concert wasn't advertised at all in the Israeli media. I felt that 
it should have more of a presence in mainstream society." Later, he became 
a devoted activist for Mizrahi rights and culture as a founding member of 
The Mizrahi Rainbow Coalition (HaKeshet HaDemokratit HaMizrahit), the 
primary secular social justice and Mizrahi activist organization in Israel. 

Years later he appealed to the Avi Chai Foundation to support his brain- 
child, Kehillot Sharot. As Ohana acknowledges, "If I had started the program 
even two years earlier, it would probably not have taken off as it did." With the 
increasing popularity of Arab and other Middle Eastern music in Israel, Yossi 
felt that Israelis might finally get excited about piyyutim. For him, piyyutim 
offered an excellent opportunity for Ashkenazim to recognize the depth of 
Mizrahi culture. In Yossi Ohana's 2002 grant proposal to the Avi Chai Foun- 
dation (written in English), he states: 

Piyyut not only connects different population groups; it is also one of the 
main mechanisms for the transmission, preservation, and evolution 
of the tradition. It is important to note that this is a non-threatening, 
non-coercive, very vital mode of transmission. 
...For some..., the aesthetic aspect of piyyut has a powerful attractive 
force. Taking advantage of the opportunity to expose them to piyyut as 
an original form of expression of Judaism may lead them to think about 
and focus seriously on their identity, even though they did not start out 
with such a goal in mind. 

The brief remarks above point out the potential vitality of piyyut for uniting 
people from different Jewish backgrounds through love of poetry and music, 
and in the process strengthening their Jewish identity and their attachment 
to their heritage in a friendly, beneficial manner (Ohana 2002: 1). 

On the following page the proposal also states later that one of the goals of the 
proposed "Kehillot Sharot" 'would be to investigate how "piyyut can contribute 
to strengthening the weak sense of community in Israel, to ensure continuity 
and to stimulate Jewish revival" (Ohana 2002: 2). 

Although the above was written by Ohana in his efforts to garner finan- 
cial support for Kehillot Sharot from the Avi Chai Foundation, it reads like 
a state-sponsored platform for Israeli cultural nationalism. The goals of the 
project are unambiguous. In line with the Avi Chai Foundation's vision, it 
seeks to foster Jewish identity— in particular among the unaffiliated— and in 
doing so, it hopes to create a sense of Jewish community among Israelis in a 
"friendly," "non- threatening," and "non-coercive" way. The Avi Chai Founda- 
tion approved the funding. 

The course meets weekly for 2 V% hours and includes multi-week units con- 
centrating on different piyyut traditions, such as Andalusian (North African), 
Babylonian (Iraqi), and the Sephardi-Yerushalmi tradition (mostly influenced 
today by Turkish and Syrian piyyutim). Units are taught by a representative 
payy'tan from each religious community. Other short units, which last for 
one or two classes, include the Yemenite women's tradition, and the one or 
two token non-Mizrahi class sessions devoted to Hasidic piyyutim. 11 The class 
also featured guest appearances from "star" payy'tanim and ethnic musicians 
such as Yair Dalai and Moshe Habusha. 

In addition to the classes, KS organizes special visits to Mizrahi synagogues 
to hear the midnight Selihot 12 services during the month of Elul, and to the 
early morning 2 a.m. ShabbatShiratHaBakkashot 13 at Jerusalem synagogues, 

11 Perhaps unsurprisingly, far fewer students attended those non-Mizrahi class 
sessions. Many Mizrahi students told me that they had no interest in learning Hasidic 

12 The month of Elul is a time of repentance in preparation for the High Holidays of 
Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. In the Sephardic tradition, selihot (special piyyutim 
asking for forgiveness) are chanted every night around midnite or in the early morning 
hours around 5:30 am, during the month of Elul and continuing through Yom Kippur, 
except on Shabbat. 

13 Bakkashot are a specific repertoire of piyyutim sung in some Mizrahi Jewish 
communities on Shabbat in the Winter time (between the Jewish holidays of Simhat 
Torah and Pesah) from the middle of the night (beginning anywhere between 12 to 


including the famous Allepo synagogue, "Ades," in Jerusalem's Nahlaot neigh- 
borhood. The regular members of the synagogues are generally pleasantly 
surprised to see these new faces taking an interest in their tradition, and were 
particularly tickled when we (the members of the class) joined in on the songs 
we had just learned at Kehillot Sharot. The few women who regularly attend 
the bakkashot were particularly delighted since we increased their numbers 

The Hevra 14 

One of the most unique aspects of Kehillot Sharot is the wide diversity of 
the student base it attracts, which is due in part to the savvy marketing. The 
ads for Kehillot Sharot prominently feature the course's title, "The magical 
journey of the Piyyut." Swirling designs reminiscent of the magical smoke 
wafting from the lamp in the 70s TV show "I dream of Genie" surround the 
title and much of the flyer. Ohana chose the title partially as a tribute to The 
Beatles' "Magical Mystery Tour," and though he acknowledges its "kitschi- 
ness," he wanted to ensure that the course appealed to diverse audiences. "It 
got the job done," he explained. The flyer also mentions that students will 
have the opportunity to meet and study with Israel's well-known "Ethnic" 
musicians Shlomo Bar and Yair Dalai, and with two of Israel's most estab- 
lished Mizrahi payy'tan superstars Haim Look and Moshe Habusha. In this 
way, the poster appeals to a wide variety of potential participants. It attracts 
those looking for a New Age 15 -type "magically" spiritual, yet "authentically" 
exotic Middle Eastern experience, but it also beckons to those drawn to the 
Mizrahi or religious Jewish tradition as represented by beloved Master's such 
as Habusha and Look. 

My own involvement as a participant in Kehillot Sharot seemed completely 
natural to all of the teachers and students. As we went around the room near 
the beginning of the course, I explained my motivation for participating. Al- 
though I identified myself as an American anthropologist conducting research 
on Mizrahi and Arab traditional musical styles, most quickly forgot about 

4 a.m., depending on the community) until approximately 7 a.m. when the morning 
prayers begin. Many of the piyyutim sung during Bakkashot are connected to specific 
Torah portions and are therefore sung only on specific Shabbatot. 

14 A Hebrew word meaning "the group." 

15 The New Age subculture in Israel is a particularly Jewish variety. It rejects many 
aspects of traditional Jewish practice but is drawn to the spiritual elements of Judaism 
while incorporating many of the common global New Age objects such as crystals, 
incense, and Native American dream catchers. 


this unless I reminded them. Even on the rare days that I brought in my video 
camera or shot a few pictures with my digital camera I didn't seem conspicu- 
ous, as I wasn't the only one documenting the class. Most students showed 
up with their cassette or minidisk recorders weekly so that they could learn 
the piyyutim, and some periodically shot photos of the class and teachers. 

The fact that I was an American was not really an obstacle to my being ac- 
cepted as part of the class, as Israel is largely an immigrant country, and there 
were a handful of others in the class who had recently immigrated to Israel 
from France, Canada, and the United States. It certainly helped that I was of 
Mizrahi background and one of the best singers in the class, holding my own 
when singing even the piyyutim with quartertones. A few of the students were 
pleasantly surprised and asked jokingly, "Are you really American?" 

I was also able to connect with the teachers (the payy'tanim) since near 
the beginning of the course I had brought them copies of rare recordings of 
my grandfather singing the piyyutim of selihot from the Persian tradition 
as well as some of the Persian classical pieces for which he was nationally 
renowned as a singer in Iran. Dudi, one of the teachers, showed up for class 
one day and promptly announced to me that his father had fallen in love with 
my grandfather's voice and refused to surrender the tapes. My family lineage 
granted me honorary status in the class — especially among the payy'tanim — as 
not only one with a scholarly and musical interest in the field, but someone 
with roots in the tradition. 

On the third week of class, we all went around the room and introduced 
ourselves and stated why we had decided to take the class: 

This experience is amazing for me, I'm from Tunis. I learned to curse these 

sounds and the countries they were from. This experience brings me to 

something very deep that until now was forbidden to me. 

I believe in the power of the desert. I decided to come to this class because 

I know that this music is what my soul needs to live. 

I was born in Roumania. When I used to hear Middle Eastern music, I 

didn't like it. But I learned gradually to hear the refinement of this music 

and now I enjoy every moment. 

I used to hear this in the house but I'd run away from it. So now I guess 

you could say that I'm returning to my roots. 

Like, these sounds take me to another dimension, you know, somewhere 

that's closer to the truth. 

I'm an Iraqi Jew. I sing these songs every week on Shabbat. I wanted to 

come and learn the piyyutim from other traditions as well. That sounded 

like fun. 

Somehow, even in Israel's ever more polarized society, Kehillot Sharot 
seems to appeal to almost everyone. The diversity of the participants Kehillot 
Sharot bring together produces beautiful, rare and exciting moments for 
participants and teachers. Dudu the youngest payy 'tan at Kehillot Sharot, 
laughed as he related the story of his first performance in front of a secular 
and mostly Ashkenazi audience in Israel: 

I was nervous because it wasn't an audience I was used to performing for 
— you know, the kind at the chaflot 16 with all the Iraqis that sing along 
with "ya'eli ya'eli" and drink beer. And here I was on stage with everyone 
staring and actually paying attention. But I myself was moved at that 
concert. I got on the stage and looked into the audience and saw young 
Ashkenazi blonde women! I said to myself, "Oh no, how did we get here, 
they're going to throw tomatoes at us!" I was nervous. But after I sang, 
this blonde woman across from me in the audience is smiling at me and 
clapping and I said to myself. "God, almighty, look, the Messiah has come! 
It killed me completely" (Interview with author: 2004). 

I asked Maimon Cohen, the most religious of the payy'tanim, whether it 
was difficult for him to agree to teach piyyutim in an environment where 
women were allowed to sing solos. He stated: 

From a Halakhic [Jewish law] standpoint, I had to break a psychological 
barrier. But how many women in our community normally go to hear 
piyyutim? Maybe four or five... So, would I think that Ashkenazim would 
want to come? No. So for us, it's like.'s fun. During my last concert at 
the synagogue, 300 people were there and 85% are not Moroccans at all 
and they are sitting and learning Moroccanpiyyutim. It warms the heart. 
It's no joke. There were Moroccans there that simply cried from happiness. 
I mean... it's as if we're finally on the map. It's no joke. 

Recruiting the Unaffiliated 

As explained above, both Kehillot Sharot and Yedidi HaShakhahta are openly 
invested in bringing together divergent types of Israelis through piyyutim, 
especially the religious with the unaffiliated. Both projects have and continue 
to successfully achieve their goals. There are also, however, the uncomfort- 
ably bizarre moments that emerged from the comingling of these divergent 
groups— particularly the secular hippy/New Age-types with the tradition- 
ally devout. At three separate performances of Mizrahi piyyutim I attended 
(including both formal and informal), at least one woman decided to get up 
and belly dance. Even though the sacred texts of the payy'tan were in Hebrew 
and the dancer was always Israeli (whose native language was Hebrew), the 

16 A festive Arab party. 

disjunctive between the words and tone of the religious poem he chanted and 
the erotic gyrations of the belly dancer could not have been more palpable. At 
one performance, the bright stage lights prevented the payy 'tan from seeing 
the women because they danced towards the back of the room; in another, 
the payy 'tan pretended not to notice; and in yet another, the singer got up in 
the middle of the piyyut and walked away in disgust. 

In Shelley Errington's TheDeath of Authentic Primitive Art and Other Tales 
of Progress (1998), she argues that the progress narrative has been turned on 
its head by what she terms "The New Age spiritual evolution" occurring all 
over the world. The earlier version placed the official white European males' 
brand of civilization at the top, and the dark peoples who inhabit nature at 
the bottom. The new age metanarrative places the "indigenous shamans and 
artists" at the top of the totem pole, with the "new age seekers of higher spiri- 
tual truth" in the middle and the corporate CEOs at the bottom. However, 
this new model tends to be as reified and essentialist as the older one. The 
primitives are still primitive, only now it is their very primitiveness that is 
lauded by the civilized (Errington 1998: 35-36). 

It is for this reason that many of the Israeli New Age spiritual seekers are 
attracted to the Mizrahi "magic" oiKehillotSharot. Some of them are attracted 
to piyyutim as a Jewish alternative to secularism or Orthodox fanaticism. 
For others, however, it doesn't necessarily matter what country, culture, or 
religion the payy'tan comes from. What is important is that he possesses an 
ancient "authentic" wisdom from a "magical," exotic and less rational world. 
According to Wouter Hanegraaff, "The globalization of New Age Spirituality 
is more appropriately seen as an aspect of global Americanization. American 
values of democracy and religious freedom are intimately linked to the New 
Age phenomenon of a 'spiritual supermarket,' where customers pick and 
choose spiritual commodities they fancy" (2001: 16). In this way, the global 
New Age movement, like some forms of world music, tends to facilitate the 
glossing over of difference. 

Because New Age is often defined in terms of its reaction against aspects 
of dominant Western culture, one would expect New Age movements in 
non- Western countries to criticize cultural imperialist attempts to impose 
Western values on indigenous cultures, and to pay tribute to the local spiritual 
traditions of the countries in question. Recent research, however, has found 
that some New Age movements have alienated local communities, who ac- 

cuse the New Agers of disrespecting their sacred spiritual traditions and of 
Western spiritual imperialism 17 (Hanegraaff 2001: 22-23). 

Kehillot Sharot, however, is a sincere and serious movement with deep 
historical grounding, and one that states openly its intent to recover silenced 
voices of the past. Because of its clear criticism of the Israeli-Western cultural 
hegemony, its commitment to teaching traditional Eastern musical traditions, 
and the opportunity it presents to Israelis to connect to an unaffiliated and 
what they view as a more spiritual form of Judaism, Kehillot Sharot successfully 
attracts a good number of Israeli New Age seekers. According to Ohana, they 
were always part of Kehillot Sharot's target population. Many of these Israelis 
refer to themselves as ruhanit (spiritual), as opposed to Jewish. Yet although 
Kehillot Sharot clearly strives to attract these Israelis, who would normally 
be drawn to Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions of the Far East, it is, 
in fact, deeply entrenched in revitalizing specific Jewish musical traditions 
from many different countries. Rather than the tradition being co-opted, 
the classes are taught by those who have become its culture bearers — some 
with the help of Kehillot Sharot, and almost all of the payy'tanim and course 
facilitators are of Mizrahi heritage. 18 

Nevertheless, Steven Feld cautions, "the intentions surrounding a record- 
ing's original production. . .cannot be controlled once a commodity is in com- 
mercial circulation" (Feld 1996: 11). This same reality can hold true in the 
context of live music. By introducing his sacred songs into the public sphere, 
the payy'tan shares his art with a much wider audience, but in the process he 
also relinquishes control of how it is used or fetishized. Sometimes, it doesn't 
matter that the payy'tan himself is there chanting, or that the words that he 
sings are "Master of the Universe, You are the King who rules every king," for 
when the dancer hears the Middle Eastern rhythms and the melismatic tones, 
she feels she knows the script. The dancer's hips come to a halt only when the 
payy'tan refuses to continue singing the piyyut and the music stops. 

Righting the Wrongs of the Past 

17 The Lakota Indians published an official declaration of war against the New Age 
movement in 1993, accusing its leaders of ethnocentrism and disrespect for its religious 
practices (Hanegraaff 2001 22-23). 

18 The only classes not taught by Mizrahi payy'tanim were the very few classes taught 
on Hasidic piyyutim. Although Esti Kenan-Ofri, a facilitator for one of the courses in 
Jerusalem, is not of Mizrahi background, she isa singer who has completely dedicated 
her self to the study and performance of Mizrahi and Ladino music, and was previously 
married to a Yemenite Jew. 


Though the Avi Chai Foundation's primary incentive for supporting Kehillot 
Sharot is its ability to unite the highly divided population of Israeli Jews 
through Jewish poetry and music, the course also serves those interested 
in elevating the prominence of Mizrahi culture in Israel. Many students are 
Mizrahim— some of whom are completely secular but interested in connecting 
with a newly appealing aspect of their culture, while others are completely 
affiliated religious Mizrahim interested in learning more. 

"How could people in this country not know about Rabbi Yisrael Najara 19 ? 
It's a pity," bemoaned Esti, a prominent singer of Jewish Sephardi and Mizrahi 
music in Israel and a facilitator in one of the Jerusalem Kehillot Sharot courses. 
"No other country would have thrown away such a treasure, but we have, 
so now we want to expose it to people." Such sentiments are shared by all of 
the staff members in the Kehillot Sharot program and repeated at various 
moments throughout the course, whether during the class itself or dlpiyyut 
performances sponsored by Kehillot Sharot for the larger community. 

During the first class in our unit on Iraqi piyyutim, Dudi, the payy'tan, 
lectured briefly about the background of Rabbi Yisrael Najara and presented 
us with select piyyutim from the bakkashot repertoire sung in the Iraqi com- 
munity. "In Baghdad, many, like my grandfather, would get up at midnight 
and begin the bakkashot. Today, people have gotten lazy. It's more like 3 a.m." 
Everyone laughed, and then Dudi explained how Jewish high school students 
in Baghdad would study the piyyutim diligently in school. An older man in 
the class shouted out, "Do they teach Najara to kids in high school here [in 
Israel] today?" Everyone laughed knowingly. "Not yet," 20 said the facilitator. 
"Only Amos Oz." 21 

Such political issues are discussed in class in a relaxed and safe atmosphere. 
The class draws a fair number of current and past members of HaKeshet 
HaDemokratit HaNizrahit and other Mizrahi political organizations. But 

19 Rabbi Yisrael Najara was one of the most well-known and prolific payy'tanim of 
his time. Born around 1555 in Damascus, he later moved to Tsfat where he became 
known as an esteemed Kabbalist. Of the four hundred and fifty piyyutim that Rav 
Najara is said to have composed, his most famous piece is Yah Ribon Olam, a popular 
piyyut written in Aramaic and sung in numerous Jewish ethnic communities with 
various melodies on Shabbat evening. 

20 Although Israeli high school students do not receive a great deal of piyyutim in 
their education, there are one or two piyyutim included in their curriculum (such as 
Yonat Rehokim and Yedidi HaShakhahta). 

21 Amos Oz is a prominent contemporary Israeli writer. He also happens to be a 
secular Ashkenazi Israeli. 


they don't come to Kehillot Sharot to gripe against Ashkenazim. They come 
to celebrate their culture with a class almost halfway full of Ashkenazim. As 
one Ashkenazi member of Kehillot Sharot's Tel Aviv group, Uri Goldberg, 
stated, "It's really nice, in my opinion, that in spite of the fact that this is 
clearly elevating the prestige of Mizrahi culture, the issue isn't raised in an 
antagonistic way or from anger (as opposed to HaKeshet HaDemokratit 
HaMizrahit) but rather from a desire to approach things with amicability, so 
that people can be exposed to the beauty within it" (Charutei-Sover: 2005, 
author's translation). 

Each person who signs up for a class receives a Kehillot 5/zarot booklet. In 
addition to the lyrics of the piyyutim learned in the class, the booklets provide 
information on Middle Eastern music theory, short blurbs on the history of 
piyyutim from each tradition and short bios on fifteen of the most important 
payy'tanim. The first page of the book offers a short general history on the 
important role of piyyutim in uniting Jewish communities in the Middle East 
and what happened when most Mizrahim immigrated to Israel in the early 
1950s. As stated on page one: 

After the immigration to Israel and the difficult absorption crisis that 
occurred, the Jewish communities that arrived from the Middle East 
lost the homogeneity and the lifestyle of community life and culture. The 
physical hardships of physical survival together with the establishment's 
disregard for their Jewish values of the disapora and the different 
communities that formed them, caused a feeling of destruction, uprooting, 
and decline. {Kehillot Sharot 2003: 1) 
The text continues to explain the way in which the above situation caused 
the decline of the piyyut traditions once the communities had entered Israel 
and that it almost seemed that it would disappear completely. But the section 
ends on a positive note, stating thdX piyyutim are making a comeback in Israel 
and implying that those participating in the course are a part of this exciting 
time {Kehillot Sharot 2003: 2). 

The Internet 

In September 2005, the Avi Chai Foundation embarked upon perhaps its most 
ambitious piyyut project yet, the extensive website (, "An 
Invitation to Piyyut" The website provides information about Kehillot Sharot's 
mission and approach, its teachers, the locations for its now nine different 
classes offered throughout the country, and testimonials from participants 
from the class. The website is much more than an informational PR piece 
for Kehillot Sharot, however. It offers links to informational and academic 


articles on every aspect of the piyyut; detailed scholarly articles explaining 
the poetic and religious significance of each word of hundreds of piyyutim; 
video interviews with payy'tanim; and personal reflections onpiyyutim from 
artists, scholars, payy'tanim, and lay people. 

But by far the most impressive and groundbreaking elements are the over 
1,000 recordings of different versions of several hundred piyyutim from vari- 
ous traditions available for listening on the website. This vast audio library 
is searchable by ethnic group, Jewish holiday, lifecycle event, musical mode, 
or by the author of the piyyut. Yossi Ohana explained the thought behind 
creating the website: 

There are the gatekeepers— the media, TV, the radio, etc.— those who 
determine what people should or should not like. Unfortunately, they 
don't offer people the possibility of being exposed to a variety of music. 
It's not available. You can't hear it on radio or TV. So, the assumption with 
the website is that through the internet, you can overcome those barriers. 
Thank God, the website now receives more than 40,000 hits each month. 
(Interview with Author: 2005) 
Yossi's pride in the success oiKehillot Sharot is apparent. The fact that all 
of these piyyutim are loose in the global marketplace, however, has caused 
Yossi and some of the payy'tanim a bit of concern. But he is realistic. 

We've had many conversations and disagreements about this issue at 
Kehillot Sharot. But, I think it's a kind of luxury to feel nervous about it 
being out there. In everything there are advantages and disadvantages. 
The positive reactions to it outweigh the concern because people have 
access to it now. I used to be much more guarded about this but now 
I'm more flexible. All of the piyyutim are at risk... we have lost so much. 
People don't learn these at schools. The traditional ways of studying and 
composing were destroyed. So, we need to strengthen the base. (Interview 
with author: 2005) 
In 2006, the website expanded its website to include an English version and 
now receives 60,000 hits monthly from international visitors. 

Rockstars and Piyyutim 

In 2003 the first all-Israeli music channel (Channel 24) emerged on cable 
TV. During that year, the well-known rock band Nekamat HaTraktor (The 
Tractor's Revenge) was featured on the new show, "The Main Stage." The show 
was essentially a battle of the bands for Israeli pop/rock music. The band 
closed the show with their own take of Adon HaS'lihpt ("Master of Forgive- 
ness"), probably the most commonly known Mizrahi S'lihot piyyut in Israel. 

The band had recorded the song on their first album in 1990. Since then, the 
band has released several albums (none with any other piyyut renditions). In 
2003, however, they chose Adon ha-Selihot as one of the two or three songs 
that would represent the band to the entire country. 

This was only the beginning. A 2004 Tel Aviv concert called "Yehuda Halevi 
on the Corner of Ibn Gabirol" (a play on the names of two renowned Sephardic 
payy'tanim from the Middle Ages who also have streets in Tel Aviv named 
after them) featured Israel's biggest pop and rock singers, including Ehud 
and Evyatar Banai, Micah Sheetrit, Barry Sakharov, Maor Cohen, Eti Ankri, 
Yonatan and Aharon Razel and others performing new and traditional musical 
versions of several piyyutim. Many of these performers had been invited to 
perform at Beit Hillel in the past. Yet this performance in Tel Aviv's Heykhal 
HaTarbut (one of Tel Aviv's largest performance venues) was several orders 
of magnitude more public and received much more media attention. In ad- 
dition, unlike the other performances of the past— all sponsored by the Avi 
Chai Foundation — this concert was produced by Nitzan Ze'ira. 

Like his father and grandfather, Ze'ira is no stranger to the Israeli music 
scene. After some forty years working in the industry, today he is one of 
Israel's biggest music producers of mainstream Israeli rock and the founder 
of the label Na'ana Disc. Ze'ira produced the concert with sponsorship 
from Mif'alHapay is, (the Israeli Lottery) and $45,000 of his own funds. 
He is supportive of the work that Beit Hillel does, but wanted to take 
things to a more "professional" level. 
Although Ze'ira is Ashkenazi, this concert marked his personal protest 
in favor of promoting Hebrew culture in Israel. According to him, the state 
invests forty million dollars a year in musical programming in Israel and thirty- 
eight million goes toward European classical music — music Ze'ira refers to 
as "Christian music." Although the state normally pitches in for high culture 
performances atHeichal HaTarbutbj subsidizing the $10,000 it costs to rent 
the hall, it refused to do this for Ze'ira's piyyut concert: 

We built a little Russia, a little Poland. The government supports the Israeli 
Philharmonic performing Brahms and Mozart but they won't support our 
own Hebrew culture. I think Ibn Gabirol 22 is the best poet ever. Dunash 
Ben Labrat 23 lived the Hebrew language and wrote beautiful songs. He 

22 Solomon ibn Gabirol (who lived from approximately 1021-1058 in Spain) was an 
Andalusian Hebrew poet and Jewish philosopher. 

23 Dunash ben Labrat (who lived from 920-990) was a medieval Jewish commenta- 
tor, poet, and grammarian born in the city of Fez, Morocco. He was known for being 
one of the first to introduce many Arabic poetic forms in his Hebrew poetry. His most 
well-known piyyut is Dror Yikra. 


was the real Ben Yehuda 24 — the Guardian of the Hebrew language. He 
is important to our country... This concert was my own private joke. I 
thought, let's have a concert of Hebrew poetry at Heikhal HaTarbut, to 
laugh at the City. Before the concert, we changed ten of the street names 
in Tel Aviv as part of this joke. We changed Ibn Gabirol Street to Bach 
Street. . .We got a lot of press. The concert was packed. . . They [the Ministry 
of Culture] are losing money with the concerts they produce [concerts 
of Western classical music] but they don't care because they want to be 
a part of international culture. Israel needs a revolution. The problem 
is not the military. The problem is the culture. (Interview with author, 
September 2006). 
Ze'ira's concert of protest marked quite a digression from the musical reper- 
toire of most of the participating musicians 25 and the Israeli music scene took 
notice. As the payy'tan Roni Ish-Ran stated in a newspaper interview, "When 
top-of-the-line artists give a blessing to the fusion of traditional texts from 
ancient Hebrew and combine them with contemporary music, that grants 
the genre eternal life" (Arlichman: 2005, author's translation). 

Even this concert, however, was eclipsed by the final event in the 2006 
Festival Yisrael (Israel's most esteemed music festival), a concert entitled 
Yedidi HaShakhahta?. Sponsored by the Avi Chai Foundation but produced 
by Festival Yisrael, the concert took place in the immense Breikhat HaSultan 
(Sultan's Pool). Situated between the Old City walls and Yemin Moshe, the 
impressive outdoor amphitheatre often features international pop stars such as 
Sting, Bob Dylan, and Eric Clapton. The press (as per the press release) listed 
the concert as "A Night oiPiyyutim with a Link to the Sources but Enveloped 
in a Contemporary Sound— the best singers of Israeli song singing songs of 
prayer, festival, love, wine and nature with contemporary arrangements." The 
concert featured eight of Israel's biggest rock stars, including Ehud Banai, 
Meir Banai, Aviatar Banai, Barry Sakharov, Rami Fortim, Michah Shitrit, and 
others. Yet unlike previous concerts sponsored by Beit Hillel and Avi Chai, 
the presence of traditional payy'tanim was conspicuously wanting. 

The Festival organizers initially asked the well known payy'tan Moshe Habu- 
sha to perform in the concert, but he declined. Ironically, according to Dudi 
Menachem, "Habusha couldn't participate. It was too huge and mainstream. 

24 Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (who lived from 1858 -1922), was principally responsible 
for the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language in Palestine from its previous state as 
a liturgical language exclusively. 

25 Although some of these musicians had performed piyyutim for the Yedidi 
HaShakhahta program, these concerts were small and had not reached the Israeli 


Habusha lives in the haredi world. The concert received so much press. 
would have been very bad for him" (Interview with author: 2006). Although 
Habusha received permission from Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Israel's Chief Sep- 
hardic Rabbi) to teach for mixed-sex groups (which is normally prohibited in 
the haredi world), this was actually too high-profile, commercial, and secular 
a setting for his haredi community to justify as Jewish "outreach." Exposing 
secular Israelis to quality Mizrahi culture is a worthy cause, but there are 
boundaries. Performing as the featured musician at Beit HaKonfederatsiya 
or Beit Hillel for a few hundred people is not the same as sharing the stage 
with eight secular rock stars for 6,000 screaming fans. 

Once Habusha declined, the festival organizers abandoned any proposals 
from Avi Chai for parity between rock singers and payy'tanim. In the end, 
only one pay y 'tan, Lior Elmaliach, performed along with the rockers and his 
role was quite marginal. Although Avi Chai footed the bill and proposed the 
idea to the Festival, they did not have programmatic control. The organizers 
decided that they wanted a star-studded Festival finale. Rabbi Yisrael Najara 
and Ibn Gabirol weren't sexy enough without a stage full of celebrities. 

Even Ohana expressed concern over too much commercialization in the 
context of what should have been considered the most triumphant public 
relations blitz ever for piyyutim in Israel. Some audience members, Mizrahim 
in particular, were disappointed with the concert. As Ohana complained, 
"The vision wasn't parallel. It's nice that the stars joined the process and 
became a part of it, but it's problematic to organize this event without the 
payy'tanim. This is a sensitive subject and many people were very upset about 
it (Interview with author 2006)." Karen Weiss, Project Officer at the Avi Chai 
Foundation and the overseer of both Kehillot Sharot and Speaking Poetry, 
acknowledged that the concert had not accomplished all that she and others 
at the organization had hoped, but was still upbeat. "Look, we weren't thrilled 
with every aspect of it, but it was a concert at Sultan's Pool in Festival Yisrael 
and 6,000 people were there. In this framework, we did our best. The [rock] 
singers performed piyyutim within their own traditions in their own way" 
(Interview with author 2006). 

The idea of bringing together payy'tanim and rock stars for large Israeli 
audiences was certainly a savvy product placement technique for Avi Chai and 
Hillel in their quest to get young Israelis excited about piyyutim and Judaism. 
What they did not anticipate, however, was the way in which the rock stars 
themselves would be influenced by their encounters with Israeli payy'tanim. 
After being exposed to piyyutim and performing them with payy'tanim in the 
context of Avi Chai's programs, many of these well-known Israeli musicians 


and others approached Avi Chai and asked for their own Kehillot Sharot- type 
course on piyyutim. Avi Chai immediately responded affirmatively and is now 
helping to plan an exclusive piyyut course (modeled after Kehillot Sharot) 
in Tel Aviv whose students will include some of Israel's most noted secular 
rockers including Barry Sakharov, Micha Shitrit, Leah Shabbat, David Deor, 
and members of the band Knessiyat HaSekhel. 

As Karen Weiss of Avi Chai described these plans to me, I asked her if 
she was surprised by the major cultural impact that Avi Chai is effecting 
in Israel. Weiss quickly tempered my grand questioning. "I think effecting 
cultural change in Israel is too ambitious a goal for the Avi Chai Foundation. 
Our agenda is very specific and modest. We want to combine diverse people 
in Israel for Jewish study. If things are taken to be more meaningful, we are 
happy, but it's not really our goal" (Interview with author 2006). I accepted 
her comments but wondered why an organization that donates millions of 
dollars annually toward "the perpetuation of the Jewish people, Judaism, and 
the centrality of the State of Israel to the Jewish people" (Avi Chai website 
2005) would disavow a desire to effect change. Nevertheless, Weiss did not 
hide her pride in the activities that Avi Chai has helped to stimulate in Israel. 
Her hope, however, is that the recent interest among Israelis in piyyutim is 
more than a fad. "If it is a trend, it will go away as quickly as it came" (Inter- 
view with author 2006). 


It is not possible to explain the recent popularity of Middle Eastern music 
and in particular of piyyutim today in Israel through a neat and totalizing 
singular model. In spite of Avi Chai's hesitancy to acknowledge it, there is 
no question that the hundreds of thousands of dollars that this one private 
foundation has invested in successfully pushing forward its own agenda of 
uniting secular and religious Israelis has made a great impact on the cultural 
landscape. The State today has become merely one of numerous players in the 
control and invocation of culture. In today's global era, however, it is through 
the combined influence of forces such as private funding, global trends, New 
Age spirituality, ethnic pride, politics, and state cultural policy that cultural 
innovation occurs. 

This unique nationalist movement in Israel marks the collapse of a unitary 
secular Ashkenazi hegemony and its replacement by myriad fragmented 
Israeli national identities. As Baruch Kimmerling explains it: 

Although they are engaged in sharpening their own identities, the 
boundaries around these identities, and their institutional and political 
infrastructures, Israel's diverse ethnic, religious, racial... cultures are not 
ready to give up the common denominator of their claim to partnership 
and share-holding in the Israeli state. All of them aspire to remain 'Israelis' 
politically and Jews (or Arabs) ethnically or nationally. Nevertheless, the 
meaning of this Israeliness is very different from its original monocultural 
and hegemonic content and definition... Everyone desires to share the 
common goods, but on their own terms and in their own interests 
(Kimmerling 2001: 235). 
Through an analysis of the popularization of Mizrahi piyyutim in Israel 
today, we are afforded an understanding of the numerous ways in which cul- 
tural products in today's globalized world become imbued with symbolic and 
political meanings both similar and quite different from the "scripted" mean- 
ings denned by their financial sponsors. For Mizrahi activists such as Meir 
Buzaglo, Yossi Ohana, and many of the Mizrahi Kehillot Sharot participants, 
Mizrahi piyyutim allow a long overdue recognition by the Ashkenazi-centric 
Israeli society of the depth and richness of Mizrahi culture; for Nitzan Ze'ira, 
piyyutim represent his revolution of Hebrew culture and language against 
the Israeli Ministry of Culture; for religious payy'tanim, the elevated status of 
piyyutim gives them and their Jewish traditions recognition and status in the 
highly secular Israeli mainstream; for Israeli Jewish "New Agers," piyyutim 
offer spiritual meaning in a non-threatening and "groovy" format; for young 
Mizrahim and many Israeli rock stars of Mizrahi descent, piyyutim provide a 
connection to a cultural heritage that most are only now discovering. Though 
they have diverse agendas, all are invested in the reclamation and reinvention 
of a musical genealogy that they feel is vital to their identity as contemporary 
Israelis. As the nation loses its grip on the collective imagination, we are wit- 
nessing a reconfiguration of previous identities of Israeliness. As we have seen 
above, however, the fluidity of these identities often leads to a complicated 
interplay between those involved. These myriad convergences will continue 
to yield complicated and unpredictable cultural encounters. 

Works Cited 

Arlichman, Erez. 2005. "Shaharit of a New Day." Yediot Ahronot. 23 Octo- 
ber (online Hebrew edition ). 

Avi Chai Foundation. About Us > Mission, 
one=About Us&enInfolet=Mission.jsp (accessed May 2005). 

Ben-Ami, Ilan. 1996. "Government Involvement in the Arts in Israel — 
Some Structural and Policy Characteristics." Journal of Arts Manage- 
ment, Law, and Society, 26(3), 195-220. 

Charutei-Sover, Tali. 2005. "Man Searching for Meaning (in the Eastern)." 
Twenty-Four Hours Section, Yediot Ahronot, 6 October: 22-27 (He- 
brew) Errington, Shelly. 1998. The Death of Authentic Primitive Art 
and Other Tales of Progress. Berkeley: University of California Press. 

Feld, Steven. 1996. "Pygmy POP. A Genealogy of Schizophonic Mimesis." 
Yearbook for Traditional Music, Vol. 28 pp. 1-35. 

Hanegraaff, Wouter J. 2001. "Prospects for the Globalization of New Age: 
Spiritual Imperialism Versus Cultural Diversity." In New Age Religion 
and Globalization, ed. Mikael Rothstein. Denmark: Aarhus University 

Kehillot Sharot. 2003. "The Magical Journey of the Piyyut." Course Booklet. 
Jerusalem, Israel: Kehillot Sharot (Hebrew). 

Kimmerling, Baruch. 2001. The Invention and Decline of Tsraeliness: State 
Society, and the Military. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of Cali- 
fornia Press. 

Ohana, Yossi. 2002. "Piyyut: Hymns and Music as a Bridge Between 
Worlds." Grant Proposal to Avi Chai Foundation for Kehillot Sharot, 

Scheindlin, Raymond P. 1999. The Gazelle: Medieval Hebrew Poems on 
God, Israel, and the Soul. New York: Oxford University Press. 

Yudice, George. 2003. The Expediency of Culture: Uses of Culture in the 
Global Era. Durham and London: Duke University Press. 

A Ph.D. candidate in Anthropology at the University of Texas in Austin, Galeet 
Dardashti is completing her dissertation on the cultural politics of Mizrahi and 
Arab ethnic music in Israel. She also pursues her passion for Jewish music as an ac- 
complished singer. Followinga longfamily tradition of distinguished Persian and Jewish 
musicianship she is the founder of the all-female Mizrahi/Sephardi ensemble, Divahn. 
Having studied hazzanut with her father, Hazzan Farid Dardashti, Galeet currently 
serves as cantorial soloist at Congregtion Shomrei Emunah in Montclair, NJ. 

Contemporary Ashkenazi Synagogue Music in 
Israel: Some Aspects of Change in a Relocated 
Tradition 1 

by Amalia Kedem 


In discussing present-day Ashkenazi liturgical music, scholars have observed 
that this musical tradition is not identical to that found in pre-war Europe. 
Although directly linked to its European roots, the currently practiced tra- 
dition has undergone significant changes, brought about by major modern 
historical events like the Holocaust of European Jewry and the founding of 
the Jewish State. 2 Very few studies, however, have focused on these changes 
and their manifestations in what today may be considered the center of living 
Jewish traditions, namely, the State of Israel. 3 In this article I hope to add to 

1 This article is adapted from a lecture delivered at the 14th World Congress of 
Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, August 2005, and is not meant as a conclusive statement 
of findings but rather as a provisional report of research currently being done. I hereby 
thank my husband, Yonatan, and my colleague, Dr. Boaz Tarsi from JTS (NY), for their 
substantial help on matters of content and style. 

2 See E. Schleifer, "Current Trends of Liturgical Music in the Ashkenazi Synagogue," 
in: The World of Music 37/1, 1995:59-72, and S. Adler, Sacred Music in a Secular Age, 
in: Sacred Sound and Social Change: liturgical music in Jewish and Christian experience, 
L. A. Hoffman and J. R. Walton, eds., (Notre Dame : University of Notre Dame Press), 

3 So far, very few studies have been done on the Israeli Ashkenazi synagogues. 
Eliyahu Schleifer gives an overall view of the modern developments in the Ashkenazi 
tradition at large, while briefly referring to Israeli circumstances. See his "Current 
trends," 1995; and idem, "Hamishim Sh'not Hazzanut B'Israel - Bameh Hitkadamnu?" 
(Fifty years of cantorial music in Israel - what progress have we made?), in: Duchan 15, 
2000:17-26. Raymond Goldstein gives a brief account of the current state of cantors 
and choirs in Israel. See his "Ashkenazi Liturgical Music in Israel Today: a Short Social 
History and Review," in: Musical Performance 1(2), 1997:51-63. Carmela Goldman's 
dissertation on the synagogues of the Religious Kibbutz is probably a first-of-its-kind 
study, employing ethnographic materials and methods for explaining major trends 
within the religious-Zionist society in Israel. See C. Goldman, The Development of the 
Synagogue Musical Tradition at the Religious Kibbutzim, Ramat Gan: Bar Ilan University, 


the study of Ashkenazi liturgical music generally by focusing on the music 
performed in Ashkenazi Israeli synagogues during the last decades. 4 

For the sake of our discussion, Ashkenazi musical tradition refers to the 
liturgical music of the Jews of western and eastern Europe, and in particular, 
of those Jews whose ancestors settled in the Rhinelands of southwestern 
Germany and northeastern France during the early Middle Ages, before many 
of them eventually emigrated eastwards and southwards and spread out as 
far as Lithuania and Russia, Hungary and Rumania. 5 In time, the dispersed 
Jewish populace in those areas of the Continent formed two distinct cultural 
entities, one in the West and one in the East. While sharing the same basic 
liturgical tradition, these two entities eventually came to have their own dis- 
tinct performance styles and customs. The performance style and practices of 
the western European Jews came to be known as "Minhag Ashkenaz," while 
those of the eastern European Jews were called "Minhag Polin/Lita." 6 

4 The Ashkenazi synagogues with which I am concerned in this investigation are 
strictly those of the Orthodox Zionist community (often referred to as the "national- 
religious camp"). While I do not ignore the presence of the other religious denomina- 
tions within the Ashkenazi cultural milieu in Israel, I am particularly interested in this 
community because of its firm commitment to religious traditional practice, while at 
the same time partaking openly in the country's social, political, and cultural life. 

5 A. A. Urbach, "Ashkenaz", in: Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 3 (Jerusalem) 1972:cols. 
719-722 (originally from the EH), and also E. Schleifer, "Jewish Liturgical Music from 
the Bible to Hasidism," in: Sacred Sound a < al music in Jewish and 
Christian experience, L. A. Hoffman and J. R. Walton, eds., (Notre Dame : University 
of Notre Dame Press), 1992:13-58; and idem, Current Trends, 1995. 

6 On the distinction between these two main branches of the Ashkenazi liturgo-mu- 
sical tradition see A. Z.Idelsohi (3rd edition, 
Schocken Books, 1967 (1929)). Many scholarly works followed Idelsohn in using this 
two-fold paradigm when discussing different aspects of this tradition. Nevertheless, 
this general division into East and West is not intended as an exhaustive classification 
of the entire Ashkenazi musical tradition. Indeed, each of the two main branches may 
be divided into further sub-groups. See for example H. Avenary, "Aspects of Time 
and Environment in Traditional Jewish Music," in in Musicology, vol. IV, 

It is noteworthy that some distinct cultural characterizations have evolved around 
the two main musical sub-traditions: The western branch, which is the earlier or more 
original of the two, is conventionally considered to be more orderly, restrained, and 
refined, whereas the eastern branch is regarded as more sentimental, spontaneous, and 
melismatic. Interestingly, these two characterizations coincide with the stereotypical 
distinctions between western Ashkenazi Jewry and the "Ostjiiden." See on this: Jack 


Now, considering that most Ashkenazi Jews living in Israel today are 
themselves immigrants from Europe or the descendants of such immigrants, 
one would have expected to find in the new country the subsistence of the 
Ashkenazi musical tradition in its known European mold. Indeed, the gen- 
eral impression is that this tradition does persevere in contemporary Israel. 
And yet, when its various components are inspected closely, it appears that 
much is not exactly as it was during the last one-to-200 years before the War. 
In what follows, I will illustrate some of the manifestations of change in the 
Ashkenazi musical tradition since its relocation to Israel and indicate some 
of the social and ideological factors that led to them. 

Changes and Innovations 

The following illustrations of musical changes and innovations in the Ash- 
kenazi liturgical tradition in Israel are all taken from one central, well estab- 
lished synagogue in Jerusalem. 7 The members of this synagogue are almost 
all of Ashkenazi origin, either European immigrants or the descendants of 
such immigrants, the majority coming from the West, and it can be said that 
they all have strong Zionist inclinations. According to the synagogue's set of 
regulations on prayer matters (Taqqanot), the prayers are to be conducted in 
"the Ashkenazi nusah accepted in Jerusalem" [the writer's translation from 
the Hebrew, here as elsewhere]. The above mentioned nusah refers to the 
entire body of liturgical texts known as the Lithuanian rite, which is the most 
representative version of the eastern, non-Hasidic, Ashkenazi tradition. 8 This 
textual nusah is based on that used by the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797) and his 

Wertheimer, Unwelcome Strangers: East European Jews in Imperial Germany (New 
York: Oxford University Press), 1987; and David Brenner, Marketing Identities: The 
Invention of Jewish Ethnicity in Ost und West (Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University 
Press), 1998, mainly chap. 3. 

7 Ohel-Nehama congregation, located in the Kiryat-Shmuel neighborhood. 

8 In the context of Jewish liturgical music, the term nusah usually refers both to the 
version of the liturgical text used and to the musical and stylistic modes of performance 
of the liturgical text by a prayer leader during synagogue service. For a discussion of the 
different uses of the term see B. Tarsi, "Observations on Practices of Nusach in America," 
in: Asian Music, 33/2, 2002: mainly 175-179, and J. Frigyesi, "Orality as Religious Ideal 
- The Music of East-European Jewish Prayer," in: E. Schleifer and E. Seroussi, eds., 
Yuval - Studies in Honour of Israel Adler (Yuval studied of the Jewish Music Research 
Centre, vol. VII, Jerusalem: Magnes Press) 2002: mainly 124-128. In the specific case 
of the regulation quoted above, the authors' intention was probably to designate the 
textual version required, but as we shall see later they also had the musical meaning 
in mind. 


disciples, and has been accepted in Jerusalem since the end of the 18th century, 
and thus it is also known as the Lithuanian-Jerusalem (Lita-Yerushalayim 9 ) 
nusah. Although the term nusah in the above quoted statement denotes text, 
it is understood by the members of the synagogue that such a text is to be 
recited in accordance with a certain musical tradition, in our context, the 
eastern Ashkenazi tradition. Indeed, the musical rendition of the prayers in 
our synagogue is, by and large, that of the eastern European or Lithuanian- 
Jerusalem branch. 

1. Prayer Styles and Tunes 

Critical examination of the music performed in the synagogue reveals that its 
musical repertory is quite varied, including melodies and styles not of eastern 
European origin. Indeed, I have so far identified Hasidic, German, Hungarian, 
Spanish-Portuguese, and modern Israeli tunes, as well as works by such well 
known composers as Salomon Sulzer, Louis Lewandowsky, Shlomo Zalman 
Rivlin, Zalman Pollack, Zvi Talmon, and Shlomo Carlebach. 10 The musical 
diversity characteristic to this synagogue is discernible not only within the 
scope of its entire yearly repertory, but also within the more limited scope of 
individual liturgical events. Thus, on a given Day of Atonement (Yom HaKip- 
purim), for example, in our synagogue one may well hear tunes and styles of 
different origins, such as Lithuanian and other eastern European variants, 
Hasidic, German (Frankfurt), English, Alsatian, Dutch, and modern-Israeli 
(i.e., composed by Israeli cantors and musicians). 

2. Biblical Cantillation 

Just as the majority of the prayers in this synagogue are conducted in the 
eastern European style, so too, is the biblical cantillation. The western or 
German (" Yekkish") biblical cantillation variant is seldom heard in this syna- 
gogue, and when it is, this is usually for the Haftarah. The Book of Esther, 

9 This term was coined by Y. L. Ne'eman, in his Nosah LaHazan vols. 1 & 2 (Jeru- 
salem: The Israel Institute for Sacred Music, 1963 & 1968). 

10 Salomon Sulzer (1809-1869) — composer and cantor in Vienna; Louis Lewan- 
dowsky (1821-1894) — composer and choirmaster in Berlin; Shlomo Zalman Rivlin 
(1884-1962) — cantor and cantorial teacher in Jerusalem; Zalman Pollack (1901-1985) 
— cantor and teacher in Jerusalem; Zvi Talmon (Monson) (1922-) — composer, teacher, 
arranger and choirmaster in Jerusalem); Shlomo Carlebach (1920-1994) — composer 
and performer of some liturgical pieces and many popular Jewish songs in modern 
popular Hasidic style. 

read publicly twice on the festival of Purim (once in the evening and once the 
following morning), is the only text for which the western variant is heard 
either as much or even more than the eastern variant. 11 For many years now, 
the evening reading has been performed by the same person, whose cantil- 
lation of Esther is distinctly western European. Sometime during his career 
as reader, he introduced, for one of the book's verses, a tune that is different 
from that of the traditional tropes (i.e., the musical cantillation motifs), a 
tune of uniquely western Ashkenazi provenance. 12 We are referring here to 
a popular wedding tune from the Rhineland area, sung at the ending verse 
of chapter 7 (Example l): 13 

11 Although the eastern and western variants are easily discernible, they are only 
slightly different from each other. In any case, in this synagogue they are employed 
independently by different readers and there is usually no mixture of the two variants 
by the same reader. See Amalia Kedem, Contemporary Cantillation ofthe Book of Esther 
According to the Ashkenazi Custom in Israel (MA thesis, Jerusalem: Hebrew University 
of Jerusalem), 2001: chap. 2. 

12 As compared to the general rule of Ashkenazi biblical cantillation, according to 
which a certain trope-tune is used for the entire text being read on a given occasion, the 
reading ofthe Book of Esther on the festival of Purim incorporates musical "detours" 
for several verses, in which the Esther trope-tune is replaced by other tunes. Borrowed 
from various sources, these tunes allude to hidden meanings in the text, in addition 
to their function as an interpretive tool for the reader, thus enriching the contents of 
the text and adding a festive, cheerful atmosphere to the event. On detours see A. W. 
Binder, Biblical Chant (NY: Philosophical Library) 1959. On the event and practices of 
the Ashkenazi cantillation of Esther in contemporary Israel, see Kedem, Contemporary 
Cantillation, 2001. 

13 Ofthe two separate field recordings that I have of this person reading the Book 
of Esther, made over a decade from each other, the early one exhibits at this point the 
regular traditional trope-tune, while the later one already incorporates the musical 
"detour" (see previous note). The tune used here as a substitute for the regular tropes is 
employed in the western Ashkenazi tradition in different wedding related contexts: for 
the seven wedding benedictions in Holland, and for the Huppah procession, in Germany 
and in Alsace. The surprising connection of a wedding tune to Purim has generated 
several popular tales, exegetical pieces, and jokes relating to the two liturgical events. 
See H. Bloemendhal and J. Poolman van Beusekom, eds. Amsterdams chazzanoet: 
synagogale muziek van de Ashkenazische gemeente, Buren: F. Knuf ), 1990: end of vol. 2; 
F. Raphael, "Le Mariage Juif dans la Campagne Alsacienne dans la Deuxieme Moitie 
du XIX Siecle," in: Studies in Marriage Customs, Folklore Research Center Studies, IV 
(Jerusalem), 1974; Kedem, Contemporary Cantillation, 2001:124-5; and B. Hamburger, 
Shorshei Minhag Ashkenaz, vol. 4 (B'nei B'rak: Machon Moreshet Ashkenaz), 2004:547-8. 


Example 1. 

When this tune was first introduced, some congregants who were familiar 
with it from the Old Country joined the reader in the singing of this verse. 14 
Eventually, other members of the congregation joined in, so that in time, 
the singing of this distinct western Ashkenazi tune by the congregation as a 
whole became an integral part of the synagogue's practice. 

In the example of the Book of Esther we illustrated the presence of the 
western European branch in the synagogue's biblical cantillation repertory. 
But besides the separate coexistence of the two cantillation variants, there 
are also instances when elements of the two are intermixed. Take, for ex- 
ample, the two variants of the frequently occurring cantillation- trope T'vir 
(Example 2): 

Example 2. 

While the contours of these two variants are similar, the difference in their 
location within the modal framework (i.e., their position in relation to the 
musical scale used, to its inner hierarchy of tones, and to its characteristic 
motifs) is significant enough to be immediately and correctly identified by 
insiders. In other words, bearers of the tradition often have no difficulty in 
attributing each variant of the t'vir trope to its respective branch, and so, they 

14 Whereas joining in with the reader during biblical cantillation is considered a 
deviation from the general Ashkenazi practice, it is not so in the cantillation of Esther, 
where - as I have shown elsewhere - deviation is part of the rule. See Kedem, Con- 
temporary Cantillation, 2001. 

are able to evaluate a given performance of the trope as being correct or incor- 
rect. At the same time, the two variants of the t'vir trope are similar enough 
to be smoothly interchanged. And so, when a reader of German background 
inadvertently uses the eastern European variant of this trope, as occurs from 
time to time in our synagogue, his western (German) reading style becomes 
tinted with a slightly different modality. 

3. Congregational Participation 

Changes in the Ashkenazi musical tradition in Israel manifest themselves 
not only in the music itself but also in the modes of its performance. One of 
these changes concerns the roles of the congregation and cantor during the 
service. It occurs in our synagogue that particular musical pieces originally 
composed either for cantor and choir or for cantor solo are sung together 
by the congregation - a phenomenon generally unknown back in Europe. 
Such pieces are performed congregationally even when the text, and its mu- 
sical setting, call for a recitative kind of singing. This innovation in mode of 
performance has had two distinct effects. One is the blurring of the bound- 
ary lines between the roles of cantor and congregation. 15 The other is the 
simplification and standardization of the music itself, especially in pieces of 
improvisatory character. 16 Two examples of this active form of participation 
by the congregation are the pieces by Louis Lewandowsky, U'v'nucho Yomar, 
for returning the Torah scroll to the Ark before the Sabbath Musaf) and Adonai 
Malach, Psalm 93, for Kabbalat Shabbat). 17 The actual performance of these 

15 By assuming also the cantor's parts, the congregation is in essence undermin- 
ing the traditional status of the cantor as soloist and performer, a status that evolved 
conspicuously in 19th century central and western Europe. The increased active role 
of the worshipping public in the service is indeed consonant with the apparent general 
decline in the status of the cantor in the Ashkenazi community at large. See M. Slobin, 
Chosen Voices, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1989), p. 195-196; 
E. Schleifer, Current Trends, 1995:65-66; and Goldstein, Ashkenazi Liturgical Music, 

16 Some aspects of the processes of simplification and standardization occurring in 
this synagogue are similar to those occurring in Ashkenazi American synagogues. See 
Tarsi, "Observations," 2002; and idem, "Voices in the Sanctuary - Musical Practices of 
the American Synagogue," in: Conservative Judaism, 55/1, 2002:61-73. 

17 The version of Uw'-nucho Yomar sung in this synagogue is no. 76 (p. 128-9) in 
vol. 1 of Lewandowski's Todah W'Simrah (Berlin: E. Bote & G. Bock), 1876. A slightly 
different version may be found in no. 51 in his earlier KolRinnah U'T'fillah: ein- und 
zweistimmige Gesaengefuer den israelitischen Gottesdienst (Frankfurt a. M.: J. Kauffmann, 
1882; 1st ed.: Berlin), 1871:38-39. Adonai Malach is no. 14 (p. 13) in KolRinnah, or no. 


pieces by the congregation is quite impressive, considering their complexity, 
which includes some subtle modulations and jumps in intervals of sevenths 
and octaves. 

It should be noted that not all cantorial pieces in this synagogue's repertory 
are sung together by the congregation. In other words, the inclination of the 
worshippers to congregational singing has not done away with the institution 
of cantor. 18 From an aesthetic point of view, it is obvious that not every musi- 
cal piece may or should be sung in unison by the worshippers. The specific 
cantorial pieces that are sung congregationally in our synagogue are, for the 
most part, those which were known already to many of the members back in 
their countries of origin. Their performance in this synagogue may be seen, 
then, as an attempt to keep alive that particular musical tradition within the 
confines of Israeli reality 19 

Factors of Change 

We saw above that one of the manifestations of change in the Ashkenazi musi- 
cal tradition as carried out in Israel is the striking diversity in tunes and styles 
evident in the local repertory. In the case of our synagogue, various factors 
account for this diversity. The first is connected to the varied backgrounds 
of the prayer leaders who have served in it throughout the years. Although 
one may find in this community prayer leaders and cantors who grew up 
with either of the two main branches of the Ashkenazi tradition, the most 
active and conspicuous among them are those of western European origin: 
from Germany, Holland, France, Switzerland, and England. The latter prayer 
leaders, who are well- versed in their own Old Country tradition, also learned 
the common eastern European nusah, which facilitated their participation 
in the synagogue. 20 The majority of the western European styles and tunes 
employed today in this synagogue, like those of Lewandowsky, were intro- 
duced by these prayer leaders. 

25 (p. 62-63) in Todah W'Simrah, vol. 1. 

18 One does indeed hear in this synagogue sections of the liturgy performed in solo 
by the cantor or prayer leader, while the congregation remains silent. 

19 For some observations on congregational singing in Israel, see Yosef Zucker, "A 
Cross-section of Congregational Singing in One Israeli City," in: Journal of Synagogue 
Music, Fall 2005, mainly p. 188. 

20 In interviews held with these prayer leaders I was informed that their learning 
of the eastern nusah took place either actively, from teachers or books, or passively, 
through involvement in Zionist youth movements or simply from being exposed to 
the local tradition while living in Israel. 


As to the adoption of modern Jewish tunes and Israeli liturgical composi- 
tions, like those of Rivlin and Talmon, two explanations may be adduced. 
The first explanation is general and underscores the universality of this 
development. As often happens, relocated cultural groups absorb features 
and elements from their new surroundings. These features and elements 
are then interwoven into the groups' own practices, thus creating new and 
distinct forms of their traditions. Our congregation's varied repertory, then, 
simply reflects the influence of local mores and tastes. 21 The second expla- 
nation concerns the conscious aspirations of the congregation to impart to 
their synagogue a modern Israeli identity. Despite the fact that the members 
come from a variety of backgrounds, most of them can be said to possess 
strong Jewish and Zionist roots. Indeed, the choice of the Lita-Yerushalayim 
nusah was ideologically motivated. The decision to use the predominant 
liturgical text followed in the Ashkenazi Zionist community stems from this 
congregation's desire to be part of that group. The members' Zionist outlook 
is noted explicitly in the synagogue's prayer regulations: "The prayers will be 
conducted according to the Ashkenazi nusah accepted in Jerusalem... while 
giving expression to the religious significance of the revival of the Jewish People 
in their sovereign country." It was this outlook which motivated the inclusion 
of special liturgical pieces, like the Prayer for the State and its Leaders ( T'fillah 
Li'ShlomHam'dinah), the Prayer for the IDF soldiers (T'fillah l'-Hayalei Tsahal), 
and various other additions to the yearly liturgy which were innovated in the 
Zionist camp. 22 Needless to say, all these represent a certain departure from 

21 The diversity in backgrounds apparent in this synagogue reflects the general social 
situation in Israel in which immigrants from specific communities were dispersed 
throughout the country and eventually joined or formed new communities. This situ- 
ation goes hand in hand with the general disintegration of the traditional framework 
of European communities caused in part by the emigration of members from those 
communities. Appreciation of the processes through which new communities are 
formed in Israel is crucial for understanding the ways in which immigrant musical 
traditions are transplanted there. Drawing upon Jehoash Hirshberg's article, "In Search 
of a Model for Transplanted Music in Migrant Communities" (Musicology Australia 15, 
1992), one could say of our synagogue that the interaction in it between the musical 
elements of various origins has resulted in a "synthesis" of traditions. 

22 The prayers for the State and for the soldiers are part of the regular Sabbath and 
Festival services. Among the additional liturgical pieces one should mention the reci- 
tation of the memorial service {Yizkor) on the Day of Atonement for members of the 
congregation who died in combat, and the festive services commemorating Israel's 
Independence Day and "Jerusalem Day" ( Yom Yerushalayim), marking the reunification 
of Jerusalem during the Six-day War in 1967. 


the old European synagogue practices. Thus it is easy to see how the desire 
to partake in the local national culture led to this congregation's openness to 
well-known local pieces. 

Another factor which explains the diversified character of our synagogue's 
repertory is the fancy of the members for congregational singing. This phe- 
nomenon, which we will discuss below, accounts for the embracing of various 
Israeli folk and neo-Hasidic hits. 

It would appear that all the above deviations from the traditional eastern- 
European musical nusah are in contradiction to the spirit of the regulations. 
As stated, the election of a certain textual rite - in this case, Lita-Yerushalayim 
- does imply the use of a certain musical tradition. 23 However, the regulations 
do not explicitly define the musical parameters to be followed in the prayers. 
Although it is clear that the election of a specific textual rite conforms with 
the ideal of uniformity in synagogue practice, technically, the ambiguity on the 
musical issue allows for the different prayer leaders to display their own musi- 
cal tastes, be they eastern, western, Israeli, or any combination of these. 

The ambiguity regarding the music to be used during the prayers holds 
also for biblical cantillation. The use of the western European tropes in a 
synagogue where the ordinary reading follows the eastern cantillation style 
reflects a certain degree of flexibility and consideration for those congregants 
of western background. A case in point is the regular evening reading of the 
Book of Esther. For one, this reading is executed in the western style. But of 
greater interest is the fact that the reader felt comfortable enough to deviate 
from the standard western tropes and introduce the detour tune mentioned 
above. This tune, unique to certain western Ashkenazi communities, was 
chosen by him out of his desire to please those congregants of western back- 
ground to whom this tune is dear. 

The case of the t'vir trope, in which a western reader inadvertently slips 
into the eastern variant of the trope, may be ascribed to that reader's long and 
constant exposure to the dominant eastern cantillation style. This example 
illustrates clearly how the interaction of different musical styles within the 
same setting may result in one style being influenced by the other. 

As mentioned above, changes in the Ashkenazi musical tradition in Israel 
are manifest also in the modes in which the music is performed. The example 
we discussed was that of congregational singing at musical compositions 
originally composed either for cantor and choir or for cantor solo. In our 
synagogue, several factors account for this phenomenon and its distinct 

23 See opening paragraph of Changes and Innovations subsection, above. 

consequences. The first factor concerns the lack of a formal choir, a reality 
common to most synagogues in Israel. 24 Having no choir, it is easy to under- 
stand how the congregation fills in that part. In fact, prayer leaders in our 
synagogue who initiate a piece for cantor and choir expect the congregation 
to assume the choir's role. That the congregation joins in also during parts 
meant exclusively for the cantor stems from the fact that they are not a choir 
in the formal sense of the term, i.e., they lack the training of a formal choir. 
This stands out particularly in those musical contexts in which the parts for the 
cantor and the choir are in close proximity to each other. In Lewandowsky's 
Uw'-nucho Yomar, for example, a piece containing a sequence of alternating 
parts for cantor and choir, it may not be always clear to the congregants what 
parts were designated for them. In the example of Adonai Malach, a piece 
intended as a recitative for solo cantor, the congregation's singing seems to 
be prompted by the fact that this piece follows immediately in the service 
after another singing favorite of the congregation, the Tzaddik Katamar, end 
of Psalm 92). 25 Consequently, instead of concluding their singing at the end 
of the latter piece and thereby adhering to their "choir" role, they tend to 
join in with the cantor for his solo part - the result being that the preferred 
and expected mode of performance of a given piece is extended unto the 
neighboring one. 26 

The second factor behind this synagogue's vocal congregational participa- 
tion during pieces not meant for congregational singing is the keen desire 
of many of its members for communal singing. This desire, which reflects 
local tastes and influences, finds its origins in the practices of Jewish Zion- 

24 See Goldstein, "Ashkenazi Liturgical Music," 1997. 

25 Tzaddik Katamar is the ending of the piece titled Tow L'Hodoss (beginning of 
psalm 92) — KolRinnah, end of no. 13 (p. 13); Todah W'Simrah, end of no. 21, p. 50-51. 
Psalms 92 and 93, being part of the service's text, are recited by all communities. The 
congregational singing of this sequence of Lewandowsky's settings - Tzaddik Katamar 
and Adonai Malach - is randomly found in Ashkenazi Israeli synagogues. The singing 
of Tzaddik Katamar alone in Lewandowsky's version is apparently a most common, 
wide-spread practice in the US. See G. Goldberg, "Neglected Sources for the Historical 
Study of Synagogue Music: The Prefaces to Louis Lewandowski's KolRinnah u'T'fillah 
and Todah W'simrah - Annotated Translations," in: Musica Judaica, 11/1, 1989-90: 
mainly p. 34. 

26 By changing the norm of performance of this section of the prayer, the congre- 
gation is also changing its modal framework, a phenomenon discussed by B. Tarsi in 
"Congregational Singing as a Norm of Performance within the Modal Framework of 
Ashkenazi Liturgical Music", JSM 30/1, 2005, pp. 63-95. 


ist youth movements both in Israel and abroad. 27 As a matter of fact, group 
singing is still one of the hallmarks of these ideological movements. The fact 
that many of the members of our congregation are alumni of movements like 
B'nei Akiva and the Religious Scouts is thus significant. 28 Indeed, the desire 
for congregational singing finds expression early on in the synagogue's prayer 
regulations. These regulations, formulated in the 1960s by the founders and 
first members, have it that "the prayer leader should strive to have the con- 
gregation join in the singing." 


As stated in the Introduction, the Ashkenazi liturgo-musical tradition has 
undergone significant changes during the last decades. In this article it has 
been my aim to discuss some of the changes specific to this tradition since 
its relocation to Israel, by presenting manifestations of change taken from 
one particular Israeli synagogue. Our discussion shows that changes in the 
tradition have transpired both in the music (e.g., tunes and styles) and in 
the manner of its performance (whether by cantor or congregation), and 
that they cover all areas of the liturgy, from prayer to biblical cantillation. 29 
Among the main factors behind changes in the tradition we noted the diverse 
backgrounds of the congregation's members and in particular, the reciprocal 
influence of its prayer leaders, readers, and cantors on each other. Further- 
more, we noted the impact that Israel's modern cultural milieu has had on 
the music of this synagogue, as well as the role played by the congregation's 
ideological aspirations to partake in this milieu and assimilate its particular 
tastes and trends. 

27 Group singing is up to this day a widespread pastime in modern Israel, as can be 
learned from the fact that it serves as leisure activity or entertainment in both private 
and public events. Such events are even organized and recorded or filmed, to be later 
broadcast in the electronic media. 

28 See E. Schleifer, Hamishim, 2000; and, idem, " 'Shalom Aleikhem:' HaLahan 
Ha-mekubal Veha-Malhin Ha-nishkakh," in: Duchan 16 - Avigdor Herzog Book (Jeru- 
salem), 2006: mainly pp. 316-317. Elsewhere (Current Trends, 1995:66), he mentions 
this demand for singing as part of a more general trend prevalent both in Israel and 
in the US after World War II and accounted for by social changes brought about by 

29 The fact that the changes were found among members who have emigrated from 
Europe, thus embodying the relocation of the tradition, attests to the rapid pace of 
change that this tradition has undergone so far in Israel. 


True, the study of a single synagogue, however representative it may be, 
is insufficient for attaining a full appreciation of the subject of Ashkenazi 
liturgical music in Israel today. For this research, it is indispensable to carry 
out comparisons with other synagogues in the country. And yet, the picture 
afforded by one synagogue alone is enough to give us a sense of the new 
directions in which this tradition is developing in Israel. 30 

Amalia Kedem is a Hebrew University PhD student, a researcher at the Jewish Music Re- 
search Centre in Jerusalem and an active member oj Ensemble. In 
her MA thesis she analyzed contemporary traditions of cantill >k of Esther in 
Israel. Her current research focuses on the creation and development ofnusah and tunes 
in Israeli Ashkenazi synagogues in view of the mixture of traditions inevitably occurring 
in the immigrant society of contemporary Israel. 

30 Borrowing the concept of "diversity within unity", I would like to suggest that in 
synagogues such as this one, in which the members actively strive to create a distinct, 
unified, and integrated community, diversity itself generates tolerance for the musi- 
cal variety offered by the different prayer leaders, thus making integration possible. 
Congregations that function in this manner are bound to develop their own distinct 
and new musical traditions. On "diversity within unity", see Asian Music 17(2), 1986 
(a special issue, edited by Mark Slobin and Philip V. Bohlman, and titled "Music in the 
Ethnic Communities of Israel"). For an acute example of how new integrated traditions 
may emerge see J. Summit, '"I'm a Yankee Doodle Dandy?': Identity and Melody at an 
American Simhat Torah Celebration," in: Ethnomusicology 37/1, 1993:41-62. 


Sephardic Influences on the Ashkenazi Liturgy in London 

by Naomi Colin Zentner 


In this paper I intend to explain how and why Sephardic melodies were 
adopted into the liturgy of the Ashkenazi Jews in London during the early 
twentieth century. As part of this account I will discuss synagogue reforms, 
the creation of the United Synagogue's choral hymnal and the part of Francis 
Lyon Cohen in the inclusion of Sephardic melodies in the Ashkenazi prayers. 
Finally, I will present a transcription of current day Ashkenazi usage of the 
Sephardic tune Az Yashir Moshe as a case study for usage of these Sephardic 
melodies in Ashkenazi Orthodox synagogues in London of 2004. l 

I will begin by describing the process of synagogue reforms taking place 
within Orthodox synagogues during the second half of the 19 th century in 
London resulting in the inclusion of several Sephardic melodies into the 
Handbook of Synagogue Music, the United Synagogue choral compilation of 
the complete liturgy of English Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews. 2 

Synagogue Reforms 

By the second half of the nineteenth century, major changes had been imple- 
mented in the rituals of Orthodox synagogues in London. Sermons were 
given in English, prayer was partially abridged, and rabbis and cantors were 
dressed in canonicals greatly resembling Anglican ministers of that time. 3 To 
the mass of primarily religious Eastern-European Jews who began arriving in 
waves in England during the 1880s, this phenomenon must have been quite 
disturbing. Were these the same Jews who had emigrated from European 
communities only a few generations ago? What influences could have pos- 
sibly provoked a synagogue manner so foreign to the traditional Ashkenazi 
Judaism they had originated from? 

1. London was chosen to serve as a case-study for this thesis because of the resources 
available; however, Sephardic musical influence is evident in other parts of England 
as well. 

2. Francis L. Cohen and David M. Davis, eds., The Voice of Prayer and Praise: A 
Handbook for Congregational Singing (London: Greenberg and Co., 1899). 

3. Todd M. Endelman, The Jews of Georgian England 1714-1830: Tradition and 
Change in a Liberal Society 1714-1830 (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society 
of America, 1979), 160-163. 


Most of the Jews residing in England in 1880 lived an Anglicized life. They 
maintained English values, enjoyed equal rights, and lacked in the realm of 
Jewish learning. As immigrants they had quickly internalized the values of 
English life and remodeled their own lives and the life of their community 
based on these newly acquired values. They changed their dress, diet and 
education. External characteristics such as the long beard, Eastern European 
dress and Yiddish language were abandoned relatively quickly, while central 
elements such as synagogue worship and Jewish education were retained but 
modified. Already in the 1820s, the synagogue service changed gradually, so 
that Jewish religious ritual would be compatible with the prevailing gentile 
practice. For example, only men in top hats were allowed the honorable 
Aliyah LaTorah; clergymen, then called "ministers," wore clerical robes; and 
decorum was deemed of the utmost importance. 

Also reformed were the musical aspects of both Ashkenazi and Sephardic 
synagogue ritual. Choirs were introduced to both communities in the late 
1830s and the 1840s, and gained increasingly in popularity. By the 1880s 
they were well established in synagogues, and appeared as a weekly feature 
in Shabbat and Festival services . The music sung by Ashkenazi choirs tended 
to be too complex for the community to join in the singing; in fact, it was 
sometimes too challenging for even trained choristers to perform correctly. 
The intricate music used in the services excluded the lay members of the 
congregation from participating, to the extent that the community in some 
synagogues served only as an audience instead of as participants. 4 This situ- 
ation gave rise to the need for a synagogue hymn book, comprising melodies 
for the synagogue services for Shabbat and Festivals that facilitated congre- 
gational participation and choral musical performance. 

The Handbook of Synagogue Music 

In 1889, the first version of the United Synagogue's choral hymnal A Handbook 
of Synagogue Music: The Voice of Prayer and Praise (henceforth "Handbook") 

4. In a sermon given in 1884, Simeon Singer, the New West End Synagogue minister, 
bemoaned the passive role of the congregation, with the service divided between the 
choir and reader, "[decorum had gone too far, for] the reader and the choir... divide 
between them the whole service, the congregation remaining for the most part passive, 
listening to the proceedings... In the days before choirs had become a recognizable 
auxiliary of the synagogue service the whole congregation joined audibly in the ap- 
propriate responses." Quoted in Steven Sharot, "Religious Change in Native Orthodoxy 
in London 1870-1914: The Synagogue Service," The Jewish Journal of Sociology 15, no. 
1(1973): 70. 


was published, with a revised version printed some ten years later. 5 One of 
the reasons for the Handbook's compilation was an attempt to standardize 
the music used in the United Synagogue's constituent congregations and thus 
to create a unified liturgy. 

The Handbook was intended to be the hymnbookfor Ashkenazi Anglo Jew- 
ry, used by congregants in conjunction with the Siddur. The Handbook— which 
comprised all the melodies sung in synagogue during the Jewish year — was 
invaluable to cantors, choirMaster's and choristers. Its immense popularity, 
as evidenced by the release of a revised edition in 1899 and five subsequent 
editions over the course of the next 65 years, testifies to its musical significance 
in the British Jewish community 6 

In an attempt to improve the choristers' incorrect pronunciation and musi- 
cal incompetence, the soprano and alto parts in the Handbook (sung primar- 
ily by children) were notated in the tonic sol-fa, taught in many elementary 
schools, as well as in staff notation. In addition, complex harmonies were 
rearranged and intricate melodies simplified so that choirboys who were not 
trained musicians would be able to sing elaborate choral compositions. 

While it is difficult to determine how the editors chose musical material 
for the Handbook, it is simpler to ascertain the volume's musical sources. 
The Handbook included mostly preexisting choral pieces with a few newly 
composed works and included pieces by non-English composers such as 
Solomon Sulzer, Louis Lewandowski and Samuel Naumbourg; and Anglo- 
Jewish composers Julius Mombach, Charles Salaman and others. Also used 
were preexisting Anglo-Jewish musical compilations, such as The Music Used 
in the service of the West London Synagogue of British Jews, edited by Charles 
Verrinder for the Reform synagogue. 

I chose to focus on fifteen melodies of Sephardic origin which appear 
in the Handbook of Synagogue Music. My research and comparison reveal 
that nearly all were taken from The Ancient Melodies of the Spanish and 
Portuguese Jews, edited by David Aharon de Sola and arranged by Emanuel 
Aguilar in 1857. 7 The Ancient Melodies was the earliest print source for the 
main body of traditional Spanish and Portuguese melodies. Its purpose was 

5. The United Synagogue, formed in 1870, was an organization uniting the Ashkenazi 
Orthodox Synagogues in London under the Chief Rabbi. 

6. 1 chose to focus on the second more widely received second edition published in 
1899 edited by David M. Davis and Francis Lyon Cohen. 

7. Emanuel Abraham Aguilar and David Aaron de Sola, eds., The Ancient Melodies 
of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews (London: Wessel and Co., 1857) 


to preserve and lay out the historical research of the Spanish and Portuguese 

oral traditions. 

Sephardic Melodies in the Ashkenazi Handbook 

The Sephardic melodies included in the Handbook are designated for different 
parts of the year-long prayer cycle. They include Sephardic melodies to the 
prayers of Sabbath and the High Holidays as well as for Shloshet HaRegalim. 
Among them are: Adon Olam, melodies for Hallel, Lekha Dodi, El Nora Ali- 
lah, En Kelohenu, Yigdal, and Az Yashir Moshe/Shirat HaYam which will be 
discussed further. Not all melodies retained their Sephardic function when 
relocated into the Handbook. For example: melody number 25 is Hallel for 
Shabbat in the Sephardic Ancient Melodies, but when transferred to the 
Handbook the editors chose to include it in the liturgy of Rosh HaShanah as 
"BeSefer Hayyim." 

Why did the editors of the Handbook, compiled for the usage of Ashkenazi 
congregations, decide to include melodies that had never been part of the 
traditional Ashkenazi repertoire? The answer to that question is complex; 
reasons seem to range from the musical features of the pieces to the person- 
alities involved in producing the Handbook. 

In 1892, Herman Adler, the Chief Rabbi of the Orthodox Ashkenazi 
communities in London, wrote a pamphlet urging choirMaster's under his 
auspices to utilize melodies of simple contour to encourage congregational 

I entreat the worshippers not to imagine that Divine Service can 
be performed vicariously for them but to offer up the prayers with 
concentrated attention and fervor, and to join with heartiness in the 
responses, psalms and hymns. In order to enable the congregants to do 
this, I would ask the choirMaster's to use the simplest harmonies and to 
eschew all melodies of an ornate and florid character. 
Since Sephardic melodies were usually sung by the entire congregation 
they had developed along lines especially suited to that form of communal 
participation. Many characteristics rendered Sephardic melodies appropriate 
for inclusion in the Handbook: They sounded different from Ashkenazi tunes 
but enjoyed unquestioned Traditional status as they were already in use by the 
Orthodox Spanish and Portuguese community. Moreover, they were simple 
and repetitive with small melodic ranges, making it easy for congregants to 
sing along. The harmony used in Sephardic choral pieces had fewer modula- 

8. Herman Adler, The Ritual: The Reply of the Chief Rabbi (London: Wertheimer, Lea 
and Co., 1890). [My italics] 

tions than most pieces in the Ashkenazi repertoire, thus young boys could 
more readily learn to sing them. 

Francis Lyon Cohen 

Francis L. Cohen, coeditor of the Handbook, was an Ashkenazi rabbi and 
musicologist interested in the sources and ages of Jewish melodies. He was 
particularly engrossed by what he perceived to be ancient melodies. It is 
interesting to note the large percentage of Sephardic melodies about which 
he chose to write articles, as musical editor of the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901- 
1905). He categorizes them as older than Ashkenazi melodies, stemming from 
antique sources. Some of the Sephardic melodies that eventually appeared in 
the Handbookwere featured earlier in his academic lecture on the evolution of 
Jewish music through history, the Rise and Development of Synagogue Music. 9 
It is possible that while researching that talk he encountered interesting musi- 
cal examples which he subsequently included in the Handbook's first edition 
published in 1889. Cohen himself found Sephardic melodies to be significant 
historical milestones in the development of Synagogue music. His belief that 
Sephardic melodies are eminently suitable for congregational singing is con- 
veyed in his article "Adonoi Melech" in the Jewish Encyclopedia: 

In the Sephardic Liturgy.. .the melodies are intended more for 
congregational singing than for the cantor's elaboration. . . The Sephardim 
have more traditional strains suited for rendering by a congregational 
unison, and as a result these melodies have varied but little in local tradition. 
In the Ashkenazi liturgy, however, the cantor was from ancient times, not 
so much the leader of the congregational song as the practiced vocalist 
who musically interpreted the text to the listening congregation. 10 
Another aspect of Sephardic influence is evident in the prayer book of 
The West London Synagogue of British Jews, a Reform synagogue established in 
1840. The prayer book adopted Sephardic pronunciation and other Sephardic 
customs, including a few melodies originating in the Spanish and Portuguese 
synagogue. The Orthodox community could not avoid being influenced by 
these synagogue reforms, both in England and abroad. 11 Tellingly, the Sep- 

9. Cohen, Francis L. "The Rise and Development of Synagogue Music." In Papers read 
at the Anglo-Jewish Historical Exhibition, Royal Albert Hall. London: n.p., 1887. 

10. Jewish Encyclopedia, s.v. "Adonoi Melech." [The emphasis is mine] 

11. Early Reform communities tended to incorporate Sephardic melodies and employ 
Sephardic pronunciation. Edwin Seroussi has traced Sephardic influences on Reform 
musical practices in Hamburg, Germany. Edwin Seroussi, Spanish Portuguese Syna- 
gogue Music in Nineteenth-Century Reform Sources from Hamburg: Ancient Tradition 


hardic melodies in the English Reform repertory appeared later in the English 
Orthodox Handbook. 

Although the Handbook was very popular among choristers and cantors 
it did not fulfill its primary purpose: to be used by worshipers together with 
the Siddur. We lack documentation regarding the actual acceptance of the 
Sephardic melodies into the repertory of Ashkenazi synagogues and whether 
they were actually sung after the Handbook was published during the 20 th 
century. What is easier to ascertain is whether current day Ashkenazi practice 
in England includes Sephardic melodies in the synagogue. 

My research, for which I interviewed English Ashkenazi cantors and lay 
members in an attempt to locate remnants of the Sephardic presence, reveals 
that even today Sephardic melodies are sung in most Ashkenazi synagogues in 
London. The two most popular Sephardic melodies areAdon Olam, composed 
by David Aharon De Sola, cantor at the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue 
and editor of the Sephardic compilation The Ancient Melodies and Az Yashir 
MoshelShirat Hay am. 

Az Yashir Moshe 

Az Yashir Moshe, or Bendigamos as it is termed by Italian Jews, is one of 
the most widespread Sephardic tunes, sung in almost all of the Sephardic 
Diaspora. The use of the melody Az Yashir in Ashkenazi liturgy is one of 
the most notable phenomena in the history of the inclusion of Sephardic 
music in Ashkenazi practice. Az Yashir was and still is sung by Spanish and 
Portuguese communities every Shabbat as part of the Zemiroth (Ashkenazi: 
Pesukei DeZimra) of the Shaharit morning service. 12 It is positioned in the 
Handbook as part of the regular Shabbat morning service, which was its set- 
ting in the Sephardic prayers in the 1880s when Cohen might have heard it 
sung there. 

Today, Ashkenazi Jews in England sing it only twice annually — on Shabbat 
Shirah, the Shabbat which features the reading of the weekly Torah portion 
of the splitting of the Red Sea and the song of praise, Az Yashir Moshe — and 
on the seventh day of Passover (Sh'vi'i shel Pesah) when the same portion is 
read. They do not sing it in its Sephardic context, as a prayer of praise within 
the Zemiroth section, but as the melody for the Torah reading. 

in the Dawn of Modernity (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1996). 

12. This custom is practiced in London, Amsterdam, New York, and other remnants 
of the Western Spanish and Portuguese Diaspora. 

The reason for this variation in function might be due to the differences 
between Ashkenazi and Sephardic ways of performing the Zemiroth section. 
The Sephardic congregation tends to sing much more of the prayers than the 
Ashkenazi congregation. At this point in the Sephardic service, the choir is 
often present and leads the community in singing Az Yashin However, since 
Ashkenazim perform this section of the liturgy in a quiet recitation, and choral 
singing appears only at a later stage in the prayers, Az Yashir is not sung aloud. 
An attempt to incorporate the Sephardic melody of Az Yashir into Ashkenazi 
prayers at that juncture and to have it sung by the congregation would not 
have been successful. Thus, the only possible opportunity for singing this 
melody would be at a later stage in the prayer service, such as used for the 
Az Yashir portion in the Torah reading, which occurs twice a year. 

On these occasions during the traditional Shabbat cantillation of the Torah, 
Ashkenazi Jews across the globe sing a typical Ashkenazi trope variation es- 
pecially designated for Az Yashir Moshe. In England, however, this is not the 
case. English Ashkenazim have adopted the Sephardic melody of Az Yashir 
Moshe as their special cantillation of the Torah portion oi Shir at Hay am. This 
melodic adoption is unprecedented, since there is no other circumstance 
in which a melody is used for the cantillation of a Torah portion during the 
Jewish annual cycle within Ashkenazi traditions. Even more incredible is the 
fact that the Sephardim themselves do not sing this melody for the Torah 
portion of Az Yashir Moshe on Shabbat Shirah. Rather, they sing it during 
the Shabbat Shaharit service as on any other week and add a special section 
of singing in honor of Shabbat Shirah. 

Scores, testimonies and recordings reflect different methods of performance 
for this melody among the English Ashkenazi synagogues on Shabbath Shirah 
and Shv'i'i shelPesah. One popular possibility is singing the Sephardic melody 
only to those verses where the name of G-d is mentioned in Az Yashir. In 
the transcription of the Sephardic version of Az Yashir Moshe as recorded by 
Halfon Bennarosh, hazzan of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue Bevis 
Marks in London (Example l. 13 ), the clear beat and Sephardic pronuncia- 
tion are evident. 

13. London Sephardic Liturgical Music Series 47101-2, National Sound Archives, 
Jerusalem, 1987. 

Example 1. Transcription of Halphon Bennarosh's chant for Az Yashir (London 
Sephardic Liturgical Music Series, 47101-2, National Sound Archives, Jerusalem, 

This rendition can be compared to a transcription of a recording I made in 
London in 2004 of an Ashkenazi rendition of Oz Yoshir, by Reverend Michael 
Binstock, hazzan at the Egerton Road Synagogue (Example 2.). The alterna- 
tion between verses sung in the regular cantillation chant and those sung 
in the Sephardic chant is noted. An "A" denotes the traditional Ashkenazi 
Torah cantillation and "B" denotes the verses with God's name, in which the 
Sephardic melody is employed. 14 

14. I chose to transcribe the piece without division into measures since the piece is 
sung without a regular beat; instead, the lines are numbered. 

Example 2. Reverend Michael Binstock: Oz Yoshir (Song at the Sea); 

A -Traditional Torah cantillation; B -Sephardi melody ofAz Yashir (transcription of 
rendition duringan interview by the author, London, England, February 3 rd , 2004). 

While Examplel . shows the melody of Az Yashir sung by Sephardim with 
a very clear beat, the Ashkenazi rendition in Example 2. lacks any feeling of a 
clear beat. The free-flowing rhythm to which the Sephardic melody is sung in 
the Ashkenazi version appears to be a result of its appearance within the Ash- 
kenazi Torah cantillation which is always sung without regular meter. Hence 
the Sephardic melody is sung with characteristic Ashkenazi Ritardando in 
certain places as well as Ashkenazi pronunciation. Ashkenazi and Sephardic 
choirs would likewise perform this piece in completely different ways. The 
Sephardic choir functions as an accompaniment to the congregation's singing 
while the Ashkenazi choir performs this piece for a listening congregation. 


The verses of Shirat Hay am sung worldwide by Ashkenazim to the spe- 
cial Shirah trope are the same ones sung by the English Ashkenazim to the 
Sephardic melody. They are: Exodus 15:1, 2, 3, 6, 11, 16 and 18. This implies 
that English Jews adopted a Sephardic melody for their cantillation of "Shirat 
Hayam" but used this melody according to an ancient Ashkenazi custom. 
Thus, the new practice reflects a fusion of two traditions into a new hybrid 

Another manner of using the Sephardic melody within the Ashkenazi Torah 
reading is singing the entire Az Yashir to the Sephardic melody, not only the 
verses including God's name. The use of a choir for this portion of the prayers 
was once popular, since the Sephardic melody had been harmonized for use 
in the Sephardic synagogue with a choir. Michael Binstock recalled that the 
Torah reader customarily sang the Sephardic melody — joined by the choir 
in the melody's refrain. In another synagogue, the congregation customarily 
sang every verse before the reader— reversing the traditional sequence of 
congregational singing. 

According to halakhah {)ewishlaw;HayyeiAdam: 31, 5), the reader should 
perform the cantillation of the Torah portion by himself. Modern-day Or- 
thodox practice is strict with regard to this law. As a result, in the last twenty 
years participation of the choir or the congregation in Az Yashir gradually 
diminished, and has all but disappeared. Some of the cantors interviewed 
mentioned that they themselves had discontinued this custom because it 
contradicted halakhah. 

Singing the Sephardic melody of Az Yashir during the Torah reading on 
Shabbat Shirah has spread beyond the United Synagogue and has become 
an "English" custom. This came up in an interview I conducted with Hazzan 
Pesach Segal, cantor at the Hendon Adas Yisroel Synagogue, established in 
1926 and belonging to the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations. Haz- 
zan Segal recalled that a Torah reader introduced the Sephardic melody of Az 
Yashir to the synagogue during the 1980s, and the custom was subsequently 
adopted. So much so that on one occasion when the Sephardic melody was 
not sung to the Torah portion of Az Yashir "people were upset," since it had 
become a synagogue tradition. 15 

My interview with Hazzan Nathan Gluck — son of the hazzan at the Great 
Synagogue in Sydney, Australia and today cantor at the Munks Synagogue 
in London— indicates that Az Yashir was sung in the Sephardic function as 
part of Shaharit for Shabbat every week until twenty years ago (a custom not 

15. Pesach Segal, interview by the Author, London, England, February 3 rd , 2004. 

practiced elsewhere in Australia) 16 . 1 believe that this practice was introduced 
by Francis Lyon Cohen, rabbi of the Great Synagogue in Sydney between 1905 
and 1934. It reflects his continuing attempt to renew the ancient Sephardic 


Sephardic melodies seemed to answer the need for singable congregational 
material at the end of the 19th century when they were incorporated within 
the London Handbook of 'Synagogue Musicby editors Francis Lyon Cohen and 
David M. Davis. This attempt to introduce Sephardic melodies into the cor- 
pus of Ashkenazi synagogue music was not altogether successful; today only 
two of the fifteen melodies which were included in the volume are still sung 
popularly in Ashkenazi synagogues: Az Yashir Moshe and Adon Olam. 

My research has led me to believe that Sephardic influences on Ashkenazi 
practices in England range beyond synagogue melodies to other areas and 
could be subject to an interdisciplinary study encompassing history, lan- 
guage and architecture. For example, all United Synagogue congregations 
have seating arrangements with congregants facing the center, which is the 
Sephardic custom, instead of facing the front as is the traditional Ashkenazi 
arrangement outside of England. 

Finally, while conducting this research I asked cantors and musicologists 
what they thought had drawn Francis Lyon Cohen to these Sephardic melodies 
and motivated his attempt to incorporate them into Ashkenazi practice. They 
generally replied, "Maybe he just liked them." Cohen's writings and practice 
in leading prayer imply that this answer might not be so far from the truth. 

Naomi Cohn Zentner is a PhD candidate in musicology at the Hebrew University, 
under Edwin Seroussi, on the topic of Zemirot Shabbat in Israel. She teaches a 
course in Israeli Folk Music to cantorial students at the Hebrew Union College in 
Jerusalem, and recently delivered a paper on "Biblical Events in Israeli popular 
Song" at the American Conference of Cantors convention. This article, based on 
her Master's thesis atMcGill University in Montreal, was given as a lecture at the 
World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem on August 2 nd , 2005 and is published 
with the Author's permission. 

16. Nathan Gluck, interview by the Author, London, England, February 4 th , 2004. 


1) Until the Final Note 


How is it, that of all the hobbies s< > picked the 

serious endeavor of becoming a chorister? And de :g— why does 

she enjoy it so much? For the Purity of Song. 

Shortly after joining The Tel Aviv Chamber Choir I was surprised to find myself 
totally abandoned. Mind you, it wasn't the first insult that I'd suffered in my 
life. But it was the first time that I experienced, in the midst of a rehearsal, 
the cool and bitter taste of rejection on grounds of mental deficiency. 

The irony was that I had been warmly accepted; The Tel-Aviv Chamber 
Choir is famous for close interpersonal ties among its members. Even our 
rather brusque director Michael Shani had reacted with tolerant under- 
standing when I struggled through the lightning-like Fugue section of the 
Cherubini Requiem. But now a former singer, Rena, rejoined the group, 
and in a split-second the women around me disappeared, only to reposition 
themselves next to her. It happened quietly, without fuss. Rena happened to 
be an excellent sight-reader, and in a choir you always want to stand alongside 
someone who's sure of every note. 

"Great," I said to myself, "you finally managed to find a hobby that points 
out your learning deficiencies! Wouldn't it have been better to leave your 
singing talent in the realm of obscure myth? Why do you suppose humans 
invented hobbies, if not to escape the dullness of their routine for a little 
while, to transport themselves to a higher and brighter level full of enchant- 
ment? This particular pastime, with its tremendous investment of energy, is 
self-defeating, and debilitating to boot." 

When, for example, would it occur to anyone reading this article to drag 
themselves— after a full day's work— to Kiryat Gat, to undress and then suit 
up in a room with forty other men and women, or even to look in a mirror 
after a four-hour rehearsal? The image isn't very encouraging. Truthfully, 
belonging to a serious choir demoted me from the life-style rank of brigadier 
general to that of buck private. 

And we still haven't mentioned the single most humiliating session that I 
experienced in this endeavor. As someone who acquired musical skills rather 
late, it behooves me to defer to my professional friends; especially when it 


comes to identifying chords, where I'll always be feeling my way. Diminished 
minor? Inversion? Which mode, and why is it dominant— having suddenly 
passed from eighth-to-quarter notes? 

Using Common Sense 

From the moment that all the other female singers abandoned me, leaving a 
vacuum in their wake and regrouping around Rena, it dawned on me: here in 
the choir's home base, no one cares whether Rena the Singer is wearing a Prada 
scarf or a nylon rag on her shoulder. The only concern is Rena's musical ability, 
period! Choirs and orchestras are not run democratically. They are not the 
same for all individuals and they are not open to everyone. They're more like 
a dictatorship— not just that of the conductor, but of abilities— and then only 
by dint of sweat and tears. Neither a substantial bank balance nor an exalted 
professional status will help you during an entrance audition, only your ability 
as a performer. And if it's sufficient to get you in, a pristine and exact niche 
lies waiting for you in a world which functions altogether differently. The only 
challenge you face here on a daily basis is to put in a certain quantity of work. 
Within the quantitative framework of music you're only judged by the number 
of hours you spend in voice development, preparation of compositions and 
constant ear training. No advancement should you expect, no matter how 
much you sweat it; only to succeed at maintaining your present level. And 
finally, when you will have succeeded in learning Pendereczki's Agnus Dei by 
heart, the following week you'll be confronted with yet another battle. This is 
what's known as a hobby? It's more of a full-time occupation! 

In the field of Classical orchestras and choirs you quickly learn to appreciate 
the term "elitism'and to stop apologizing for it. Once and for all, come what 
may, whether you are Conservative or Liberal, rich or poor, if you've got the 
know-how, a good voice and a good ear — you'll be accepted. Only then will 
you get to know 40 singers who initially seemed to share nothing in common 
with you besides the fact that every one of them is simply crazy about the Tel 
Aviv Chamber Choir's pianist, Sacha (Alexander) Wallach, and defers to its 
admired conductor, Michael Shani. 

At first, you will be impressed by the choir's colorful mix of ages, ethnicities 
and occupations. But within this random mosaic you'll soon find a surpris- 
ingly consistent common denominator — even similarities of personality: a 
readiness to bring this type of music home through the front door; and an 
openness to culture as a powerful statement that stands second to none. I 
enter a cafe and notice someone with a music binder tucked under his arm. 
For me, this is a telltale sign that the two of us are comrades in arms. 


The Slippery Slope of Constructive Criticism 

It took me a while to figure out a way of impressing the singers around me. 
Even without expertise I could at least offer some constructive criticism "We've 
dropped a quarter-tone," I sourly inform my neighbor Esti; an accomplished 
alto who's free of all pretense. In all honesty even if we had dropped a full 
major third, my ear would not have discerned it. But the impression that my 
simple statement made upon Esti was enormous: "What an ear you have!" 

Suddenly, in a flash of enlightenment, I am wondering: Is it possible? Can 
it be that the same food critic who disparaged that charming Arab restaurant 
just outside of Kfar Ramah knows absolutely nothing about the art of cooking? 
Does she believe that distortion and fault-finding will automatically boost her 
higher on the food chain? And what about the spurious professor of literature, 
the one who excoriated Israel's most esteemed writers? 

Undaunted, on the strength of my initial success I continue to fabricate 
nonsense. What if I concocted some juicy slander about the conductor, Mi- 
chael Shani? But enough! The consensus about Michael's ear has taken many 
years — and tears — to evolve. He is, after all, a legend for having stopped in 
the middle of a thundering eight-voiced polyphonic passage and— like an 
ultrasonic missile— zeroed in to the first altos' row: "That was not clean; 
come, let's hear it again!" 

And, dear reader, can you guess who was standing among those altos with 
her bones trembling? Like most female choristers everywhere, I'm carved 
out of sturdy stock. In real life, I've survived television appearances, spoken 
before hypercritical audiences all over the world — in diverse languages. And 
yet, nothing had prepared me for that terrifying moment when I was asked 
to sing alone for the purpose of determining if I were the one responsible for 
dragging the group down to a lower level... 

So, Why Do I Do It? 

I'm glad you asked. It reminds me of Ephraim Kishon's soccer referee who 
suffered through rain, heat, blows and curses. As he lay on his deathbed his 
loved ones asked him, "Why did you choose this profession?" He mumbles a 
few unintelligible words and expires. Again — why do I do it? I do it only for 
those rare and all- too-brief golden moments that grab you by the throat (in 
both senses) when you're least expecting it. 

Case in point: The Meisel Synagogue in Prague. The Tel- Aviv Chamber 
Choir was invited to sing Vivaldi in that city's Saint Nicholas Church. But later, 
in the synagogue with its marble Memorial Wall on which are inscribed the 
names of Prague's Jews who were murdered during the Shoah, we're perform- 


ingHatikvah in Gil Aldema's vibrant, intimate yet soul-moving arrangement. 
You could "hear" the silence that descended over that tourist-filled hall from 
here to Theresienstadt. The crowd stood there weeping, and so did we, our 
conductor loudest of all. 

Another of these moments occurred in Germany. We'd been invited, along 
with five choirs from the U.S. and Canada, to perform Leonard Bernstein's 
Kaddish with the highly regarded Nuremberg Orchestra. It was a tremendous 
and tiring undertaking. But the moment that made it all worthwhile occurred 
far from the concert hall, in the local community's synagogue where we were 
all invited, for Friday Night Kiddush. Picture it: a Russian woman cantor and 
the synagogue packed to its rafters with hundreds of Jewish choristers from 
all over the world. If it were granted me to bring my father back to life for 
one minute, I would have brought him there to hear how Jews from the ends 
of the Earth were all singing his nusah for Magein Avot\ Judging by the teary 
faces I saw, it was clear to me that many singers had been accompanied to 
Nuremberg by the memory of their late parents or grandparents. And that 
Shabbat melody had returned with them, to the very place from where the 
decree to obliterate it had gone forth. 

There are also moments of beauty which carry no baggage from the past. 
Just like that, in the middle of a concert, the audience is galvanized. All of a 
sudden the air becomes electrically charged — understandably so — with the 
almost religious exaltation that massed voices seem to create. In Brahms' 
Song of Destiny, for instance, the altos begin in a soft whisper, but we know 
that shortly the entire ensemble will join them in a resoundingly complex 
tutti that will take our listeners' breath away. 

And what about those little personal off-site victories? Often, while I'm 
attending work-related meetings, my mind will sing— unprompted and 
from memory — the Spanish Renaissance composer Tomas Luis de Victoria's 
Magnificat in eight voices. Go explain to those seated around the table why 
you're smiling... 

At home I find myself arguing with my worn-out piano: "Stop bugging me," 
I tell it, "patience... tonight, you and I will sit down to go over the cantata." 
And then, a small everyday miracle of married life takes place. My hubby, 
overhearing this confusing conversation, slips out the door and quickly re- 
turns with a CD of the piece. 

Clearly, It's a Misprint 

There are also beautiful hours when our conductor commissions a work from 
an Israeli composer who's still alive and kicking: Oded Zehavi; Menahem 


Wiesenberg; Ido Shiron; Gil Aldema; Aviyah Koppelman. Here, where we 
have a chance to influence the process, shouldn't we grab the opportunity? 
The composer usually audits rehearsals, paying attention, explaining, and 
mingling with us. 

And there are also funny moments. When setting the verse, "In pain (be- 
etsev) shall you bear children (Genesis 3:16), Koppelman deleted the bet 
from be-etsev. The result: "Pain (etsev) shall bear children." Around this new 
text gathered clouds of the most interesting commentary I'd heard in a long 

"What, exactly, did you mean?" I ask Koppelman. "Oh, it was a mistake," 
she laughs, "and you've no idea how many dissertations are written on what 
turn out to be printer's errors once the composer is gone and there's no way 
to clarify the passage in question with him." 

Another truth is discovered. As performers of Classical music we sing lots 
of Latin and German— and get to spend long hours debating the crucifixion 
of Jesus of Nazareth — in the company of our friends Mozart and Bach. But 
what's the choice? Suddenly, it's time to sing 

If I had a son, a little son. . . Uri ekra lo, Uri shell (Uri,'I'd call him; 'Uri, my 

We sing it to Koppelman's new tune that takes the early-twentieth century 
poetess Rachel Bluwstein back to her roots via a lovely Russian lullaby. A 
vibrant echo rises from the choir's ranks. With this text, one that expresses 
the longing of a barren mother who waits — as Mother Rachel waited — we 
surely know the exact reason for these words and what underlies them. True, 
we also sing, "Forgive us, Jesus; do not harm us, O Holy Spirit," pro forma, 
as it were. But when we sing, Uri, we do so mindfully, as if we really meant it 
(performed July 6, 2005 at Tel Aviv Museum). 

Was There a Budget? 

As with anyone who has unexpectedly been catapulted into Israel's musical 
scene, I too, am dumbfounded by the hardships encountered in keeping an 
organization like ours afloat. How much easier it is to set up a bloated budget 
for producing a book on meatballs, and how much harder it is to raise even 
a quarter of that amount for promoting a new work of art. I should note, 
appreciatively, that music critics have been the most vocal in alerting our 
public to this dilemma, together with institutional enablers — like the Rich 
Foundation— which stand silently behind the scenes, supporting most of 
Israel's cultural activity. 


Sometimes I think the best solution for a failing government is to have it 
start a choir. Within one week all the lay-offs would cease and new order and 
organization would reign over all. 

It's now seven years that I've been observing in amazement this model of 
lean and efficient leadership. The conductor comes to every rehearsal and 
(naturally) to every concert, far in advance of even the earliest singers and 
instrumentalists who arrive. And he is always the last to leave. If a grand piano 
is rented for the hall in Tiberias, it's always there in plenty of time. Soloists 
habitually stand around waiting before the appointed hour, fully prepared 
with every line. Excuse me for asking, but have you ever seen a self-contained 
universe comparable to this, anywhere? 

It's free of meaningless expressions like "You can count on me," "It'll be 
fine," "and "It's all in God's hands." Could the reason that we undertake this 
demanding avocation be that it serves as a refuge for principles that no longer 
exist? For example: following a schedule to the second; giving your all until 
the final note; planning each concert as if it were a military operation; and 
even — hard to believe — acquiring knowledge and absorbing culture for its 
own sake. 

Neither Grand Nor a Finale 

In her unforgettable book, Heartburn, Nora Ephron apologizes to her read- 
ers for having introduced 20 new characters into the story without warning, 
namely, her entire support group. I, too, apologize— to my family members 
for having introduced 40 men and women without warning into our already 
full life. And with these strangers, from when I first opened that door, came 
a multitude of soloists, composers, conductors, critics, stagehands, musical 
arrangers, chorales, orchestras, producers, madrigal singers, voice teachers, 
CDs, recording studios and audiences. 

I believe, however, that my family members have finally gotten used to 
all of the above, because now they are not only demanding encores, they've 
begun to submit special requests! 

Nira Rousso is a well-known food writer who regularly writes the "Taste of Life" 
column for the Israeli newspaper YediotAharonotwith a readership of 1.5 million in 
Israel, the U.S. and Europe, and also reports on zany episodes from her wide-ranging 
personal experiences. In this piece, she reveals an unexpectedly serious— though 
typically irrepressible— side. The article— "Ad HaTav Ha-aharon"— first appeared 
on July 7, 2005, and is reprinted here with the Author's kind permission. Cellist 
Ohad Bar David of the Philadelphia Orchestra helped in its translation. 


2) Reflections of a Synagogue Chorister 

by Edward Katz 

Nira Rousso's article, "Until the Final Note," reveals in accurate and enter- 
taining fashion the quasi-secret world of the serious amateur chorister. It is a 
difficult world for others to comprehend. Indeed, why do choral singers like 
Rousso spend so many hours per week attending rehearsals, learning music, 
and foregoing less demanding leisure activities so they can devote themselves 
to their chosen hobby? 

It is not my intention to provide an answer since I, too, have been an ama- 
teur chorister for over thirty years now, twenty of them with four separate 
synagogue choirs. Like Nira Rousso standing bedraggled before a communal 
dressing-room mirror in Kiryat Gat after an exhausting four-hour rehearsal, I 
often reflect upon what it is that motivates me to wake up at 6:30 a.m. on Sat- 
urday, drag myself to the 8:00 o'clock choral warm-up and then confine myself 
to a stuffy choir loft above the bimah for some three-and-a-half hours. 

I am not a very "observant" Jew, as the word is usually used. My late parents 
never attended services, not even on High Holidays, and so I followed suit. 
They did, however, have the wisdom to send me to a Jewish day school (of 
which Montreal has an abundance), so I learned to read, write, speak and 
daven in Hebrew at school, even if I did not do so in shul. 

My late Dad was a cellist who evidently passed on some of his musical 
talent to me. I took up clarinet in high school, went back to it after complet- 
ing medical school and played clarinet in a military band for 15 years. I also 
happened to have a fairly good singing voice, so in the early 1970s I joined 
a secular Jewish choir which sang Yiddish and Hebrew folk songs. Three 
years of private voice lessons and a year of theory and ear training at McGill 
University's Conservatory of Music improved my technique. 

I dropped out of the Jewish secular choir and joined the St. Lawrence Choir, 
the amateur component of the Montreal Symphony Orchestra Chorus. We 
rehearsed weekly in a church basement and would join the twenty-five profes- 
sional choristers for the final rehearsals at Place des Arts, the city's concert 
hall, which were led by Maestro Charles Dutoit. We performed much of 
the classical choral repertoire, including Beethoven's 9 th Symphony, and the 
Requiems of Mozart, Faure, Verdi, et al. Rousso's depiction of the Tel-Aviv 
Chamber Choir's conductor Michael Shani, reminded me of the St. Lawrence 
Choir's chorus master Iwan Edwards. He, too, was an incredible musician, 
almost always in good humor, who could nevertheless cast a terrifying glance 


at any individual chorister whose pitch or rhythm was slightly off. Unlike Nira 
Rousso, however, we were required to re-audition annually to maintain our 
places, and every year, a few of us were asked to leave. But I always seemed 
to pass my auditions. On one occasion, Edwards even remarked that, despite 
my only modest sight-reading ability, I always knew my music. (If he had only 
known how many hours I — and evidently, Nira Roussa as well — spent each 
week learning the repertoire...) 

After my St. Lawrence Choir experience, the singing that I've been doing 
in Conservative synagogue choirs has proved different in one other impor- 
tant respect, quite confusing at first. The choir lofts were generally screened 
off— we could not easily see downstairs— so I never actually knew what the 
cantor or congregation were doing while we performed set prayers or the basic 
liturgical responses. Luckily, I could read Hebrew, and followed along in the 
siddur without much difficulty In time, I grew to know the prayer order, and 
would attend services even on those Saturdays when the choir did not sing. 

I began to appreciate the beauty of hazzanut and to understand how 
lucky we were to live in Montreal, with its rich tradition of cantorial music. 
I changed venues to join one of Canada's finest synagogue choirs, the Shaare 
Zion Congregation Choir. During my third year there, I also became a found- 
ing member of a seven-voice semi-professional mixed liturgical chamber 
choir, Shir Hama'alot. I now sing regularly at the Orthodox Chevra Kadisha 
Congregation, and substitute occasionally at Shaare Zion. 

There is no question that singing in synagogue choirs has strengthened my 
knowledge of, and commitment to, Judaism. I am still not an active synagogue 
member, however, and steer away from committee work, synagogue politics, 
fund-raising, etc. It is my love of synagogue music that keeps me going back, 
nearly every Saturday. When the choir does not sing, I will sit and pray with 
the congregation. But I am always quietly humming the baritone line of 
whatever piece we happen to be davening, hoping that no one else can hear 
me, except perhaps for Hashem. 

Edward Katz, M.D. is a full-time medical adviser for Quebec's Occupational Health 
and Safety Board. He also sees private patients in a local clinic when he's not sing- 
ing in several synagogue choirs or with a French-Canadian group or discussing the 
finer points of Jewish liturgical music with other enthusiasts worldwide, via the 
JLM forum ( 

A Woman Reborn: Name-Changing Service 
for Women Traveling a New Path in Life 

by Dorothy Goldberg 


This ceremony — to be used after a major life-changing event such as illness, 
divorce, widowhood, surgery, etc. — draws upon two ancient rituals: the 
changing of one's Hebrew name, and a woman's periodic immersion in the 
mikvah. I wrote it originally for a friend who had undergone gastric bypass 
surgery and who, after nearly losing her life in the aftermath, found that a 
year or so later she was literally a shadow of her former self. An earlier form 
of this service helped give her the strength to embrace her new physical and 
emotional self and to begin again, literally, as a new person. The ritual can 
take place in the antechamber of a mikvah, or by a natural body of water or 
swimming pool. 

(Group gathers around the celebrant, singing V'-Od HaPa'am or the like) 

shi-rat ko-desh le-fa - ne - cha, shi-rat ko-desh le-f 

Example 1. V'-od HaPa'am; words by Hillel Zeitlin, music by Benjamin Maisner 


Today we gather around as her loving friends and family, to 

bless her with strength and courage and to celebrate the start of a new phase 
of her life. To mark the importance of this change of direction, we are wit- 
nessing the change of her Hebrew name. This is of great importance in Jewish 
tradition, for it is by our given name that God and the angels recognize us. 
We understand this ancient ritual - originally intended to deflect the Angel 
of Death - in a more modern context. We recognize that even in the midst 

of life, we experience death and rebirth. By changing 's Hebrew 

name, we are empowering her to think of her destiny as a clean slate and to 
embrace her future as her own. We participate in this ceremony today not 
to ward off death, but to embrace life anew. 

In my life, I have had many identities: daughter, friend, partner, wife, mother 
_, (profession) . All these identities are part of me, form- 

ing the mosaic of experience that I bring to this ceremony today. None of 
these identities are forgotten, none are lost. But now, as I set out to rebuild 

my life after (illness, divorce, losing a loved one, changing careers, ), I 

acknowledge that I am walking a new path. By taking on a new Hebrew name, 
I hope to find a way to leave behind old patterns and pain, while holding dear 
the beauty of all I have learned and gained in my life. Today, I begin walking 
a way of peace, balance and wholeness. 


Our Sages have said that four things can cancel the decree of judgment 
upon a person. They are: ts'dakah, t'fillah, a change of behavior, and a change 
of name. Today, we interpret this talmudic saying to mean that your destiny 

is never fixed. Dear , ts'dakah — which you have given — is an act 

of generosity that will help you to change the world in a positive way. T'fillah 
— which you have offered — will help you to sense the Divine within you and 
to reach for your better self. A change of behavior — which you initiate with 
this ceremony — can help you to determine our own destiny. These three 
things you have already undertaken as you enter this new phase of your life. 
Changing your name — which you are about to do — will give you the fourth 
spiritual tool to help you along your new path. 

(Celebrant gives description and history of new name and reason for choos- 
ing it) 

(Leader: chants Bishivah Shel Ma'alah or the like) 

Example 2. Bishivah Shel Ma'alah, after Gedaliah Rabinowitz 

, you stand in the presence of family and friends — and in 

the presence of God — before whom we now change your Hebrew name 
from to . If a decree was is- 
sued against (old name), it was not issued against (new name). And just as 
your former name has been discarded, so may you cast away old fears and 
grievances. May your life from this moment on be filled with compassion 
and health. We pray that the Source of Life send lasting physical and spiritual 
well-being to you — (new Hebrew name) — and prolong your days and years. 
May you enjoy a life of vigor and health from this day forward; ve-khen yehi 
ratzon - may this be God's will. 
All: Amen. 

Adonai, Ro'i, bless me with the courage to handle life's surprises. 
Grant me the strength to overcome adversity. 
Guide me with the light of Your Shekhinah, so that I never again 
lose my way. 

Make me aware that my life is in Your hands, and that You are 
with me, always. 



May God walk with you and protect you on your journey. 


The prophet Jeremiah refers to God as mekor mayim hayyim "the Foun- 
tain of Living Waters" (2:13). , you are about to 

immerse yourself in mikveh mayyim hayyim as a sign of your commitment 
to wash away old fears and behaviors that prevented you from adapting to 
life's changes in the past. Water has always been the agent of purification and 
renewal. This ritual immersion marks a new beginning; grasp it with all the 
courage and strength that we as a community - and your faith in our Creator 
- can give you. 

(Leader and Celebrant enter mikvah room) 


Barukh atah, Adonai, eloheinu melekh ha'olam, asher kid'shanu b'mitsvotav, 
v'tsivanu al ha-t'villah. 

(Immersion here first time. After second time, take a few moments for private 
prayer. After third time, read poem or prayer brought along by Celebrant or 
Leader. Celebrant then dries off, puts on covering garment and she and leader 
join friends in adjoining room. ) 


May God's Shekhinah protect you in the shelter of Her Wings as you walk 
in the footsteps of Deborah and Hannah. May your voice echo with theirs and 
with those of our ancestors who sang to Miriam in the Wilderness. 

(Leader leads all in singing Ali Beer or the like) 

Numbers 21: 17-18 

bira' -ho-keik b' - mish - a no-tam, bim - ho-keik b' - mish-a 

Example 3.AHB'er, after Avshalom Cohen, 19SS. 

I thank God for having kept me in life, sustained me, and enabled me to 
reach this transforming moment. 

(All sing Birkhat SheHeheyanu) 

Example 4. Birkat Sheheheyanu 

We now call you by your new name, . 

_, which links you in love to those who share your new life. May this 
name bring respect to you, and honor to the Jewish people. 

(All sing T'fillat HaDerekh, by Debbie Friedman 1 ) 
Gentle, flowing 

Example 5. T'fillat HaDerekh, r 

ic and lyrics by Debbie Friedman 

Dorothy Goldberg was ordained as a cantor in 2005 at the Academy for Jewish 
Religion. She holds a BA in History from Bryn Mawr College, an MA in Journal- 
ism and Public Relations from American University, and a Postgraduate Diploma 
in Performance and Communications from the Guildhall School of Music and 
Drama in London. She is cantor of Temple Beth Tikvah in Madison, CT and lives 
in Wallingford, CT with her husband and two children. 

1 Full score appears m Debbie Friedman Favorites (San Diego: Sounds Write Produc- 
tions), 1995:45; . 


by Deborah Weisgall 

My father observes Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, in Rockland, Maine, 
in a little white clapboard synagogue that was built as a Seventh Day Adventist 
church. My father leads the services, and my brother and I stand on either 
side of the lectern and sing the choir parts. We have been doing this for about 
eight years, and the first year the voices of the real choir I heard throughout 
my childhood echoed so strongly in my ears that I wept, our singing was so 
meager in comparison. This year, their voices were faint; I had trouble hearing 
their harmonies, and their loud absence did not shake my bones and leave 
me small and sad. I was afraid I was forgetting, so I am writing this. 

My grandfather was a cantor in Baltimore. He emigrated in 1920 from Iv- 
ancice, a town in Moravia, with his wife, my father, who was seven, and my 
uncle, an infant. My father was born in that town, where my grandfather was 
a cantor. In Hungary, once, years ago, we drove through villages near the 
Czech border which my father said were very much like Ivancice. Low gray 
stucco buildings shuttered against the main street, few trees, lots of dust; 
when my father was young and the roads weren't paved there was probably 
even more. There were animals, then, too, I imagine. My impression was of 
grayness, land, sky and houses, and empty streets. 

The synagogue in Baltimore was called Chizuk Amuno, which means "the 
strength in faith." It was the German synagogue, and although my grandfather 
had married into a Hungarian, and German-speaking, family (and in Ivan- 
cice, Jews spoke German, gentiles spoke Czech), he had been born in Poland 
and was eastern European, by definition, lower class. But he was handsome, 
with thick hair, a strong nose, blue eyes and full, curling lips; he cultivated a 
mustache and wore a hat and fine gabardine suits and carried a cane, and he 
looked as distinguished as the richest member of the congregation. 

My father and his little brother sang in the choir and studied Hebrew ev- 
ery day after school. They, and later my brother and I and our cousins, grew 
up in the synagogue near the Druid Hill reservoir. It was made from large 
blocks of golden limestone, the rock of Jerusalem. It faced east, it had arched 
windows glazed with watery squares of stained glass in shades of blue-green, 
and it had a green copper dome. Inside, it was open to the dome like an op- 
era house, with a wide balcony for the women, along three walls. The front 
facade had three double walnut doors under a portico at the top of a broad 
flight of limestone stairs. 

We always used the side door and the back stairs that led to the bimah, the 
broad low platform raised three steps above the congregation. We stopped 
in the doorway and waved to my grandfather at his lectern — he was always 
there before us. We called him by his first name, Abba, which means father 
in Hebrew. We continued up the narrow stairs, past a men's room and a little 
antechamber with a metal pipe coat rack, to the choir loft. 

Years later, when the congregation built another house of worship out in 
the suburbs, they tried to sell the building by the reservoir. The neighbor- 
hood was deteriorating and turning Black. But Abba said that he built that 
synagogue with his own hands; he had raised the money for it, and he was 
stubborn and seventy-four. He refused to move to the developments and the 
brick and glass warehouse they had the nerve to call a temple — the Temple 
was destroyed in 70 AD. For twenty years the congregation supported two 
buildings, the one out there where everybody went for bar mitzvahs and where 
you needed tickets for the High Holy Days, and the one in town, which they 
let get grimy and rundown, but where every day my grandfather collected a 
minyan, the quorum often men necessary to hold a service. 

As long as they lived in Baltimore, my father and uncle sang in the choir. 
My father, a composer, became its conductor and sang baritone; my uncle, 
a bass, was a lawyer and a jazz pianist. Every Saturday and every holiday the 
choir sang. My brother joined the choir when he turned six; he was paid 
five dollars a week. On Saturdays he and my father would leave the house at 
quarter-to-nine in the morning. 

I did not go with them. I was a girl. It was a men's choir. Although women 
no longer were segregated and relegated to the balcony, the services were 
for men. Moreover, my family did not pay much attention to its women. My 
mother felt her exclusion keenly. It was a difficult situation because she had not 
been raised in a religious family, and my father's parents also looked down on 

her for her lack of knowledge. She felt she couldn't win. Often I felt that I was 
her hostage; I would do everything I could not to be an outcast like her. 

Sometimes I would go with my father, mainly on holidays; sometimes my 
mother would bring me downtown, late. The choir loft was built like a box in 
a theater separated by a curtain from the rest of the balcony. It was over the 
bimah. I sat on its marble ledge and peeked through a velvet curtain that was 
drawn across the lower third of the arched opening. From that perch I looked 
directly down on my grandfather at his lectern in front of the ark where the 
Torahs, the scrolls of the law, were kept. My grandfather and the rabbi stood 
back-to-back. The rabbi faced the congregation. Abba faced God. 

People dressed to go to this synagogue, in fur trimmed suits and veiled 
hats, in high heels and perfume: Mrs. Hecht, whose family owned a fancy 
department store; Mrs. Hutzler, whose family owned its fancier competition; 
this congregation was chic. The more conservative men like Mr. Moses wore 
hats, the others put on yarmulkes at the door. I wore my new clothes first 
to shul, Yiddish for school, which is what we called the synagogue. Spring 
coats and cotton dresses and patent leather shoes for Passover, plaid wool 
skirts and red shoes for Rosh HaShanah, although it was usually too hot for 
wool, especially up in the choir loft. I measured myself in that place. As I 
grew, people noticed and commented I was the cantor's granddaughter. I 
felt a terrible need to be beautiful and smart. It was expected. To this day, I 
never worry more about what I look like than when I am dressing to go to a 
synagogue, and I never worry more about making a mistake. 

I felt awe in that choir loft, and deep frustration and anger, but I also learned 
a familiarity with religion, and a backstage affection for it. We were the cast of 
this production. The second bass worked for the National Brewing Company, 
one of the tenors was a jeweler, another sold men's clothes. When it was time 
for them to sing, they sang, but when it wasn't, during the Torah reading and 
especially during the sermon, they crowded into the men's room for a smoke 
or sat in the antechamber and read the papers. They sent my brother to the 
drugstore across the street for Cokes if it wasn't Yom Kippur (and threatened 
to send him out for cheeseburgers if it was); they argued politics, played 
checkers and told jokes. 

Jokes. My uncle told jokes all the time. My father could have already blown 
his pitch pipe and be raising his hand for the choir's cue, it could be Yom Kip- 
pur, the holiest day of the year, and my uncle would crack a joke. "Two goyim 
were walking by a shul, and they heard a strange noise. 'What's that?' one says 
to the other. 'They're blowing the shofar,' the other guy answers. 'Boy,' says the 
first guy, 'they sure know how to treat their help.'" A sick choked chord would 


issue from the choir loft, my grandfather would look up, his mouth open from 
singing, his eyes narrowed in fury, and he would shake his fist. 

The congregation thought he was imploring God; we knew he was threat- 
ening my uncle, and we laughed even harder. 

Then, every year, while the congregation and the rabbi were busy reading 
responsively in English, my uncle leaned out over the railing and in a stage 
whisper told my grandfather that down there it might be Yom Kippur, but up 
here in the choir loft, it was Simkhas Torah, a holiday of feasting and rejoic- 
ing. This went on every year, the same jokes, the same fury. 

My father would tell my uncle to stop acting like an idiot, and the choir 
would sober up and sing. On the High Holy Days there were at least twelve 
men, and when they sang the sound rang in my ears until I could hardly 
breathe. The floor vibrated under my new shoes, and the thick brass curtain 
rail trembled in my hand. I was afraid, and transfixed. 

There had been cantors in my father's family for five generations, singers 
and composers. My grandfather sang their music and the traditional central 
European melodies, hundreds of them, many of which he wrote down for 
the first time; his was one of the few voices left after the second World War 
which knew these songs. He also wrote his own music, always for his solo 
(he was a high baritone but he tried to sing tenor) accompanied by choir, 
with baritone and bass solos for my father and uncle. There was no eastern 
European whining and wailing here; this music was rich and melodic. It 
sounded like Schubert, like Verdi, then there would be a tune as modal and 
haunting as a troubadour's, as ancient as the medieval hymn it accompanied. 
Each holiday had its own music, its particular melodies that recurred again 
and again, its leitmotifs. 

My grandfather's music was lavish, excessive, glorious. He resented it when 
the rabbi interrupted to read a passage in English. My grandfather repeated 
those passages, especially slowly in Hebrew. He sang the entire service; eyes 
closed, he vaulted into arpeggios and falsetto cadenzas. He was gorgeous in 
his black robe, in a white robe for the High Holy Days, and in his hat, black 
or white, shaped like the onion dome of a Russian Orthodox church. He 
thumped the beat with his palm on the lectern. 

My father's pitch pipe wheezed like a harmonica as he tried to follow my 
grandfather's wanderings from key- to-key From the choir loft my father, his 
eyes bulging with frustration, hissed "C sharp!" or "Papa, G!" but Abba rarely 
paid attention. He was obeying the psalm: "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, 
come before his presence with singing." 


I could not sing. My voice was high, and it wavered. It was too high to hitch 
a ride on any of the men's voices. I heard their harmonies in a tangle, and I 
could not separate one line and stay with it. My father laughed at me. "You're 
just like your mother," he said, "you can't carry a tune." Cruel. I did not want 
to be like my mother, I wanted to be like the men. 

It was not until years later that I understood what made my father speak to 
me that way: he, a grown man in his forties, was still chasing his father, who 
was never going to let him catch up. My anger has simmered down, though 
it's never entirely gone; my father, after all, let my brother sing. But perhaps 
it has been up to me to let my father know that I want to sing, too. And over 
the years he has heard. 


The synagogue, then, held much I could not do, and much of what I wanted. 
This tradition, this world of suffering and rejoicing to music in a foreign lan- 
guage, was too intricate for a child to understand. I could not read Hebrew 
fluently like my grandfather and father; nobody in my generation could; the 
letters, elegant black teardrops, often made no sense despite Hebrew school 
three times a week. At the Passover seders my grandfather made each of us 
children read aloud from the Haggadah, and if we hesitated even for a second 
over a syllable, he jumped in with a correction. Out of self-defense, we smart 
ones memorized paragraphs and interrupted his chanting to read the same 
words every year. I did not understand Hebrew grammar until I studied it in 
college. But understanding was never the point: wonder was. 

There was an abundance of wonder. We celebrated to excess. On Hanukkah, 
when most families lit one menorah, we lit four. The seder table extended into 
the living room, my grandfather had so many guests for Passover. After his 
wife died, Abba cooked everything but dessert: eggs, gefUte fish, matzo ball 
soup, meat, vegetables. The women baked cakes and competed for praise; 
they also served and cleared the elaborate meal. The men sang. I wanted to 
stay at the table and sing, but my mother, who hated helping, made me help 
her. Later, when I was older, I — never one to avoid a battle — baked, too. 

We sang every paragraph of the Haggadah. We went on for hours after 
dinner; we had two or three melodies for some of the psalms and prayers: 
my great-grandfather's, my great-great-grandfather's, Mrs. Werner's father's 
(Mrs. Werner was a refugee from Hitler who came to the seders and whose 
cakes, to the distress of the women in my family, were superb). Abba shouted 
at everybody — his children, his grandchildren — to behave; he pounded on 

the table for silence, which he never got, and to keep the rhythm. By now the 
damask tablecloth was stained lavender from spilled wine. 

My grandfather, my father and my uncle: their three loud, competing voices 
dominated the singing. The rest of us, according to our natures, continued 
to audition or we shut up. We ended the seder with Had Gadyoh, a song of a 
kid eaten by a cat, which was eaten by a dog, which was killed by an ox, verse 
by verse, all the way up to the Angel of Death, and the Holy One, Blessed 
be He. The Angel of Death was my grandfather's solo. When I grew up, the 
last verse, the Holy One, Blessed be He, became mine. After I finished, we 
repeated that verse, as loud and as fast as we could and ended on a wild, dis- 
sonant chord, through which, holding some note uniquely her own, I could 
always make out my mother's piercing alto. 

We sighed with relief — we were nervous about pleasing Abba; was he 
worried about pleasing God? — and exhaustion and satisfaction. It had been a 
good performance. The next night, we did it all over again, every word, every 
note; even the arguments, the yelling at my cousins, the resentments over 
who had to clear the table, became part of the service. 

Once a year on Simhat Torah, the day when the reading of the five books 
of Moses is completed and begun again, we celebrated in the synagogue. I 
remember the procession of the Torahs, with their silver breastplates and 
pointers and bells, carried around the synagogue seven times by the men in 
the congregation, and we children, carrying paper Israeli flags and apples, 
brought up the rear. The women, who did not carry Torahs, crowded to the 
aisles to kiss the scrolls. 

The year I was twelve I demanded to be permitted to carry a Torah in the 
procession. My father argued my case, and I was given a small one, dressed 
in deep red velvet with gold embroidery. I was the first woman in the history 
of the congregation to do so. I don't think I have ever felt prouder, or more 

Soon after that, my father got a job in New York. We only returned to 
Baltimore for the High Holy Days and Passover. We joined a synagogue on 
Long Island; my brother and I attended Hebrew school, but not services. They 
were ugly. The music was ugly, the cantor had a terrible voice, and I had never 
had to sit through a sermon in my life. The demotion to audience was not as 
painful as the lack of beauty in the performance. It was an exile. 

But in my first year at college, I decided not to fly to Baltimore for Yom 
Kippur. I dreaded that day because of the fasting and the long services, the 
endless repetition of sins, all of which I had committed, the stories of martyr- 


dom, centuries of slaughter. I thought by staying away I could avoid the dread. 
The eve of the holiday, I went with friends in Boston to their synagogue for 
Kol Nidre services. From the first note, I wept, from homesickness and the 
unbearable ugliness of the sound. The next morning, I took a seven o'clock 
plane to Baltimore. I never felt so welcomed or loved. My father wept when 
he saw me; but I was coming back for an even deeper comfort. 

In the afternoon as we began the Ne'ilah service, just before sundown, low 
golden light from the big windows filled the synagogue, gilding the walls and 
the bimah and the white velvet curtain of the ark, gilding the Torahs in their 
white velvet covers, shining on the hair of the children in the congregation 
and on my grandfather's white hair below his domed hat. I felt the exaltation 
of the day like sunlight on my body. I was being cleansed. I loved this mo- 
ment, these men; this is what I was, what I was privileged to know, however 

Ne'ilah means closing; the last service of Yom Kippur, it symbolizes the 
closing of the gates of heaven. Our fate for the coming year has been written, 
and sealed at Ne'ilah into the Book of Life, or Remembrance, or Deeds; that 
book has many names. The melodies for the High Holy Days are repeated for 
the last time in the last confessions, the last pleas for forgiveness. The service 
ends with a declaration of faith. The Shema: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our 
God, the Lord is One" is said once. "Bless the name of the Lord" is repeated 
three times, and "The Lord, He is God" is repeated seven times, followed by 
one long note on the shofar, the ram's horn. My grandfather was in his eight- 
ies; his voice blasted like a shofar, round and full without vibrato, a call in 
the wilderness echoing in the synagogue dome. He counted the repetitions 
on his fingers so he wouldn't get lost, and so did my father and my uncle. I 
never tried to stay away again. 

Abba was getting old; his memory was going. A layer of gray grime coated 
the limestone walls of the synagogue, and broken panes of the watery glass 
had been replaced with cheap clear ones. The white velvet curtains were 
yellowed; the curtain across the choir loft badly frayed; only five men came 
to sing in the choir on Yom Kippur. Finally one year my grandfather did not 
conduct services; he didn't even know what day it was. My father took his 
place, at sixty-three a cantor for the first time. 

That afternoon I was taking a break in my grandfather's apartment across 
the street from the shul. He looked up from his chair and asked me whether 
today was Yom Kippur. It was, I said. He was upset. He insisted on getting 


dressed. He put on his beige gabardine suit and his felt Homburg and asked 
for his silver-banded cane. We took the elevator downstairs and walked 
slowly across the street, up the stone steps to the front door of the synagogue. 
We walked down the aisle and sat in the front row of the congregation. My 
father was just beginning Ne'ilah. The ark was open, and the sun gleamed 
on the silver Torah ornaments. The synagogue was filled with golden light 
and a feeling of heady tiredness after a day of fasting. In his beautiful, deep 
voice, my father sang the last supplications: "Our Father, our King, seal us in 
the Book of Life, answer our prayers, look upon us with righteousness and 
kindness, save us." 

He took the shofar out of its cover and put it on the lectern. My grandfather 
stood. "Take me up," he ordered. I held his arm, but he didn't need help. He 
walked to the steps of the bimah and shook me away. He mounted the stairs 
and crossed to the lectern. My father moved aside. My grandfather gripped 
the lectern with both hands, tilted his head back to the heavens and with a 
voice clear and full and piercing as a young man's he began the Shema: "Hear 
O Israel..." 

He was magnificent; he was a glorious old man. He knew God listened 
when he prayed; God was his real audience. Abba stole the show. My heart 
went out to my father. 

The following year, Abba stayed home, and my father got through the 
whole day alone. Then a group of people tired of the suburbs reincorporated 
the synagogue into a new congregation that hired its own full-time cantor. 
We stopped going to Baltimore for the holidays. Abba had to be moved to a 
nursing home. At the end of his life he had forgotten everything but music; 
he knew no one. But when my father visited and sang, perhaps a Sabbath 
prayer, Abba sang along and recognized his son's voice. 

Abba died when he was ninety-six. My father did not know where to hold 
the funeral. "In shul," my brother and I said. "It's too big," my father answered. 
"Nobody remembers him. Nobody will come." Well, the house was sold out, 
as we used to say in the choir loft. All the old choir members were there; 
they sang from the bimah. After the funeral, we had a party, and my uncle, 
the jazz pianist, improvised to the tune of a Sabbath prayer: "The Torah is a 
tree of life." 

I'm not sure how it happened, but my father never missed a Yom Kippur. 
He found the synagogue in Rockland, Maine. We have lived near there sum- 
mers for more than thirty years, but never had much to do with the small 
Jewish community, which has been here since the turn of the century. The 

congregation includes lawyers and doctors, dentists and merchants, a man 
who works on a herring boat, a woman who bakes bagels, and the mayor of 
Monhegan Island. At least one woman in the congregation dresses to kill. 

My father is a distinguished composer; at the age of seventy-three he's 
even becoming famous. And there he is, every year on the High Holy Days. 
I'm immensely grateful to the congregation for having us. Otherwise we'd 
have no place to go. In the beginning I think they were uncomfortable that 
I, a woman, stood on the bimah throughout the services, but I'm part of the 
act, and now, as long as I wear a yarmulke, they don't mind. To my surprise, 
I know the service practically by heart, the words and the music. 

While my grandfather was alive, we could not begin the Kol Nidre service 
without tears. My father and my brother and I would weep, remembering 
what it was like, the grandeur, the singing that you could hear outside on the 
street, remembering my grandfather beginning the prayers. Nobody but this 
family knows that music; I don't know whether it was lost in the murders of 
the Second World War or in the promise of America. We used to mourn 
what was lost; this year we did not weep. Maybe it hasn't all been lost, or 
maybe we're healed. 

One prayer for me is the most beautiful of the service; a part of it goes: "The 
shofar is sounded. A still, small voice is heard. Even the angels are frightened 
and tremble as they say: 'The day of judgement is here!'" It was the choir's 
big number, solos for everybody, complicated vocal lines, a real production. 
I don't think that the tenor ever came in on cue; my father always yelled at 
him afterwards. 

In Maine at first we used to try and fake it, but the echoes of the old choir 
were louder in our ears than we were. It's gotten simpler each year. This year, 
my father even forgot to give my brother his solo, which used to belong to 
my uncle. Next year, my brother won't let him make that mistake. 

This year the holidays fell in October; Yom Kippur was cold and clear. In 
the afternoon, during the break in the services, I went home and changed 
into jeans and climbed a mountain. Outside it was a secular day, the roads 
clogged with tourists looking at leaves. I got lost, on a trail I've taken hun- 
dreds of times. When I was a little girl my father would take me for a walk 
around the reservoir on Yom Kippur afternoon. Now he stays in shul all day, 
as my grandfather did. My father is in his seventies now, but his voice is as 
pure as ever. 

You can see the ocean from the synagogue in Rockland, and you can also 
smell the sardine factory. I made it back to shul just in time for Ne'ilah. The 


street was silent. None of the synagogue's neighbors is Jewish. It's a street 
with few trees, potholes, nondescript clapboard houses, a couple of tied-up 
dogs and a little donut shop. It must be like Ivancice, the town where my 
father grew up. 

When he ended the service, he counted the repetitions on his fingers so 
he wouldn't lose track, and so did my brother, and so did I. My father's voice 
was deep and loud and clear, and he blew a blast on the shofar that must have 
lasted half-a-minute, as strong and piercing as the foghorn in the harbor. 

Deborah Weisgall is the daughter of the late composer Hugo Weisgall, founding chair 
of the Cantors Institute faculty at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and 
the granddaughter of Abba Yosef Weisgal who served as cantor at Chizuk Amuno 
Congregation in Baltimore for 52 years. When not climbing mountains in northern 
New England she's either skiing them or writing novels like A Joyful Noise (1 999) and 
a forthcoming novel about George Eliot for Houghton Mifflin, due out in 2008. This 
; of incidents that took place in the 50s and 60s was written in 1995. 

Marcia Falk's Book of Blessings 

Reviewed by Arnold Jacob Wolf 

These are not especially devout times in the history of our people's spiritual 
career. I would not have expected in advance any outpouring of new prayer 
books of quality and imagination. Perhaps it is precisely the void in our in- 
ner lives that calls forth passionate, even somewhat desperate, attempts to 
refashion and to reconfigure our traditional liturgies. From all wings of Jewish 
religious life — the Orthodox right, represented by the many prayer books 
published by Artscroll, the left, exemplified by Marcia Falk's poetic Book of 
Blessings, a non-prayer book, and all the organized movements in between 
— we have new projects and new volumes of prayers and commentary. 

There are two tendencies at work in these new prayer books, and the two 
seem to me utterly contradictory. One is the recovery of traditional texts: more 
Hebrew, more lost or formerly objectionable ideas and formulations, more 
pages of more unfamiliar words that come from the past history of Jewish 
worship. The other trend is a relentless censorship of words and ideas found 
ethically impermissible or aesthetically repulsive. The most obvious tendency 
of this kind is an expression of Jewish feminism, a doctrine that holds that 
our new liturgy must be rendered gender-free and unmistakably neutral as 
to male or female in all respects. But this is not the only force at work. The 
Reconstructionist dogma that the Jews are not a chosen people or the ArtScroll 
insistence that no word may ever be changed or refocused despite the known 
history of a changing, indeed an ever-changing Siddur, are both examples of 
many ideologies at work to fashion the service according to one or another 
supposed theological principle. Obviously, recovery and reconstruction are 
compatible only with the greatest of difficulties and the most strenuous kind 
of manipulation. It is hard to go back to the past when you conceive of that 
past as patriarchal, primitive, superstitious, or mistaken. It is hard to make 
the liturgies more attractive and accessible if you hold that the new is ipso 
facto forbidden by the Torah. Yet both tendencies are everywhere at work: 
recovery and radical innovation are both omnipresent. 

The amount of commentary in most of these prayer books suggests that they 
are as much for study as for davening or, perhaps, that the editors do not trust 


people to be able to pray without a good deal of information, encouragement, 
and motivation. The Reconstructionists, in particular, are very concerned to 
structure the liturgy most carefully so as to inspire more kavvanah and lead 
to more spiritual success. One has the feeling about their and others' attempts 
that sometimes micro-managing community worship does as much harm as 
good. There is a virtue in spontaneity, even in randomness in prayer, along 
with fixed formulation. 

The commentaries are meant to inform as well as to inspire. Biblical and, 
often, many other references are provided. Why? For further research, or to 
shore up the validity of the prayer texts? There seems to be more comfort 
in trying to understand the words than in trying to communicate with God, 
the God Who, as Abraham Heschel often said, is the real problem of modern 
prayer. These books are for the student at least as much as for the worshiper. 
But it may be that all of us who would become worshipers must begin as 
students in these times of both spiritual dearth and spiritual awakening. 

Marcia Falk is the acclaimed translator and interpreter of the Song of Songs. 
For many years she has been working meticulously and cautiously on a book of 
Jewish prayers which now has appeared, to general approbation and gratitude. 
While hardly a complete Siddur, her Book of Blessings is full of inspired trans- 
lations of the traditional liturgy and of modern Hebrew and Yiddish poems 
by women poets whose work is worthy of being heard or heard again. 

Poetry is not, however, prayer. Meditation is not quite worship. "Passionate 
reflection," as Walter Kaufmann called it, is not precisely what Judaism has 
usually called prayer. Misspelling his name and espousing Kaufmann's views, 
Falk leaves herself open to the kind of criticism that he deservedly incurred. 
Whatever these "prayers" turn out to be, they are very beautiful, indeed: 

HalTu: Praise 

Praise the world- 
praise its fullness 
and its longing, 
its beauty and its grief. 

Praise stone and fire, 

lilac and river, 

and the solitary bird at the windo 1 

Praise the moment 
when the whole 

bursts through pain 
and the moment 
when the whole 
bursts forth in joy. 

Praise the dying beauty 
with all your breath 

the beauty of the world 

Sh'ma: Communal Declaration of Faith 

Hear, O Israel- 

The divine abounds everywhere 

and dwells in everything; 

the many are One. 

Loving life We will teach this to our children 

and its mysterious source throughout the passage of the day- 

with all our heart as we dwell in our homes 

and all our spirit, and as we go on our journeys, 

all our senses and strength, from the time we rise 

we take upon ourselves until we fall asleep, 

and into ourselves And may our actions 

these promises: be faithful to our words 

to care for the earth that our children's children 

and those who live upon it, may live to know: 

to pursue justice and peace, Truth and kindness 

to love kindness and compassion. have embraced, 
peace and justice 
have kissed and are one. 

One of Falk's polemics is against the separation of body and soul, of "mas- 
culine" spirit from "feminine" flesh, as she sometimes implies. This gives 
her the opportunity to revise the great prayer at the end of the Sabbath, 
Havdalah, which is preeminently a statement of distinctions between the 
holy and the profane, between the Sabbath and the week, between Israel 
and the nations: 


Let us distinguish parts within the whole 
and bless their differences. 

Like the Sabbath and the six days of creation, 
may our lives be made whole through relation. 

As rest makes the Sabbath precious, 
may our work give meaning to the week. 

Let us separate the Sabbath 
from other days of the week, 

seeking holiness in each. 


Falk does not believe in a personal God, despite the insistence of her trusted 
interlocutors, Lawrence Hoffman and Rachel Adler, that only a personal God 
can inspire or mandate religious commitment. Her visions of the traditional 
blessings consciously finesse the traditional formulation of God as King or 
commander Who gives us specific tasks for which we return thanks: 

Blessing Before the Meal Blessing After the Meal 

Let us bless the source of life Let us acknowledge the source of life, 

that brings forth bread from the earth. source of all nourishment. 

May we protect the bountiful earth 
that it may continue to sustain us, 

and let us seek sustenance 
for all who dwell in the world. 

For her, personality implies anthropomorphism and even speciesism, the 
dangerous doctrine that people are more precious than other forms of life. 
(How many plants or animals would she sacrifice to save her child's life, I won- 
der.) So prayers must reflect the equivalence of all life and all of nature. This 
is surely problematic for the Jew who accepts a hierarchy of God's creation, 
however profound our love may be for other species. The moon is equal to 
the sun, in Falk's eyes. God is nature writ large and, so, transcendence col- 
lapses into immanence: 

Renewal of the Moon 

I lift my eyes to the hills: 

heaven and earth are my comforts. 

By day the sun does not harm me, 

by night the moon is my guide. 

It renews its light 
for those just beginning, 
who will one day find 
their o 

May the moon 

be as praised as the s 

and all be equal 

as when we began. 

The real issue is: can we pray what we do not (yet?) believe? Marcia Falk is so 
certain of what she believes and of what she will never believe that she must 
bowdlerize the traditional Siddur. For my part, I hardly know what I believe 
and what I only wish I could believe. Unlike early, rationalistic Reform litur- 
gists, I want the prayer book to express not only my views or even our views, 
but also what the generations have held to be sacred and what I may some day 
come to accept. We should not censor our classics to make them conform to 
our political or theological whim. If this be hypocrisy, make the most of it. 
Even Falk seems to sense that more is at stake than verbal honesty. 

Sanctification over Wine for Sabbath Eve 

There was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. 
The heavens and earth were complete, with all their host. 

Genesis 1:31-2:1 

Let us bless the source of life 
that ripens fruit on the vine 
as we hallow the seventh day- 

the Sabbath day- 

in remembrance of creation, 

for the Sabbath is first 

among holy days, 

recalling the exodus 

and the covenant. 

In the beauty of these phrases, Marcia Falk has helped us all to hear the words 
of our tradition and to make some of them our own. 

Arnold Jacob wolf is Rabbi Emeritus of K. A.M. Isaiah Israel Congregation in Chi- 
cago, and author of Unfinished Rabbi: The Selected Writings of Arnold Jacob 
Wolf. This review is reprinted with permission on the tenth anniversary of its 
original appearance in JUDAISM, Spring 1997. 

Selections from Marcia Folk's "Blessings" — in Song, 
Performed by Linda Hirschorn and Fran Avni 

CD available from 
Reviewed by Kimberly Komrad 

This collection, interpreting musically words excerpted from Marcia Falk's 
The Book of Blessings: New Jewish Prayers for Daily Life, the Sabbath and the 
New Moon Festival, Harper Collins, 1996, is a soothing, calming stream of 
twenty-one folk-inspired melodies, ranging in duration from twenty-three 
seconds to nearly five minutes. It sets to music a set of poetic, non-hierar- 
chical, gender-inclusive, alternative Jewish prayers for our time, in Hebrew 
and English. 

The overall feeling of the album is soulful and meditative, with a distinctly 
feminine gentleness. Its repetitiveness, with a chain of related musical themes, 
lends itself well to meditation, healing services, women's prayer gatherings, 
and other creative services. 

"Blessing Before the Meal" is particularly lovely, with Linda Hirschorn's 
and Fran Avni's voices interweaving a tune, beautiful in its simplicity, with 
soul-touching harmonies. A highlight of the collection is "Sustaining Life, 
Embracing Death," a song in both Hebrew and English, which leads into a 
mesmerizing, textured round. The refrain of "Havdalah: Parting Ritual for 
the Sabbath," which includes voices of men and children, is reminiscent of 
the Ladino song, "Cuando el Rey Nimrod," but also includes some movingly 
chanted nusah. 

A variety of instruments, including saxophone, flute, trumpet, acoustic 
and electric guitar, mandolin, bass, keyboard, balalaika, and violin, add a rich 
world music style backdrop to the collection. Hirschorn's and Avni's voices 
blend together well, in some very pleasant harmonies throughout. As beauti- 
ful as most of the individual pieces are, they have a tendency to run together, 
sounding very much alike. The album does not offer much variety in rhythm 
or vocal dynamics, making it a bit fatiguing to listen to in one sitting. Many 
selections sound like variations of familiar Israeli folk songs. Overall, Selec- 
tions from Marcia Falk's Blessings in Songis a lovely, worthwhile contribution 
to the body of creative, gender-neutral Jewish prayer music. 

Kimberly Komrad is hazzan atKehilat Shalom in Gaithersburg, MD. She has chaired 
the Cantors Assembly's Seaboard Region for ten years, and performed cantorial and 

operatic music at concerts around the United States. Recently, she lectured on the 
Aleppo Codex at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. 


Andrew Bernard's The Sound of Sacred Time: 
A Basic Music Theory Textbook to Teach the 
Jewish Prayer Modes, 2005 

Reviewed by Patrice Kaplan 

The art of nusah ha-t'fillah has been an oral tradition for centuries and anyone 
who has learned Jewish prayer modes knows that the study requires a great 
deal of oral transmission. That may be especially so because of the dearth 
of written material on this subject. However, Jews have always found a way 
to document oral tradition, especially when there was a fear of losing that 
tradition. In The Sound of Sacred Time, Cantor Andrew Bernard presents a 
clear description and compendium of the basic Jewish prayer modes. 

He describes his book as "a basic music theory textbook to teach the Jewish 
prayer modes. ..designed for musicians trained in Western tonal theory who 
are studying traditional Jewish liturgical music...." 1 His training as a musician 
is obvious (he had earned a Bachelor's, Master's, and Doctorate in Music 
even before becoming an invested cantor and receiving his Master of Sacred 
Music degree). His writing assumes a basic knowledge of western harmony. 
The book functions well both as a supplement for students of hazzanut and 
as a reference resource. Its strength lies in the clarity of its exposition and in 
the volume of its musical examples. 

Cantor Bernard first introduces the three basic prayer modes individually 
in separate chapters — Magein Avot, Ahavah Rabbah, and Adonai Malakh. 
Chapter Four deals with compound modes and Chapter Five (the final chapter) 
discusses modulations, excursions and identifying phrases. The first appendix 
— which occupies approximately one-third of the entire book — charts the 
prayer modes for Weekdays, Shabbat, High Holy Days and the Three Festi- 
vals. The second appendix gives an overview of the history and structure of 
the Jewish prayer modes. 

Cantor Bernard has done an admirable job of dealing with the difficulties of 
documenting an oral tradition. One of his tools is to cite numerous examples. 

1 Andrew Bernard, The Sound of Sacred Time, page v 

His main text cites over 170 musical examples, and the first appendix cites 
nearly 200 additional examples. He has also developed technical prowess in 
formatting the excerpts and explanations to clearly document the details of 
his descriptions. His adept use of color, lines, arrows, circles, and boxes in 
his musical examples makes this text both visually attractive and particularly 

He has taken a subject that is complex and difficult to explain, and pre- 
sented it in a well-organized way. He quotes Dr. Eliyahu Schleifer saying in a 
lecture that the art of cantorial chant is "an endless series of variations on a 
model which does not exist." 2 However, Cantor Bernard uses so many clear 
examples of nusah in his book, and presents his topic so intelligibly, that he 
nearly does build a model for the student. 

His first three chapters are especially commendable in that they explain 
the modes and give lots of examples. These chapters are similar in style to 
Charles Davidson's Immunim Be-Nusach Ha-Tefillah, but have no "work- 
book" aspect — the "answers" for the student are in full view. (On the other 
hand, Bernard's text offers no pedagogical approach and is structurally less 
a textbook than a reference catalogue.) The following two chapters deal with 
compound modes and modulations, excursions and identifying phrases. 
These chapters are more in a style of a sampling. (More information on the 
Selihah mode can be found in Davidson's Immunim and Joseph Levine's 
Synagogue Song in America. More examples of identifying phrases can be 
found in Appendix C of the latter book, where Dr. Levine charts thirty-nine 
Mi-Sinai tunes, in primary and recurring usage.) Cantor Bernard touches on 
the Ukrainian-Dorian mode but makes no mention of the Study mode. He 
takes obvious pleasure in dissecting the prayer modes. The joy of his exami- 
nation seems to culminate in his final chapter with a setting from Selihot by 
Israel Alter that defies analysis. 3 

I first encountered this book in its smaller original form as Cantor Bernard's 
1998 thesis for the Master of Sacred Music degree. The thesis version included 
four chapters: the history and structure of the modes as an overview (now 
Appendix 2), and the basic descriptions of the three main modes (now the 
first three chapters). The book version is greatly expanded. One of its high- 
lights is the first appendix — sixty-five pages of extensive charts of nusah that 
are clear and understandable. He writes that this chart is "the resource I've 
always wanted on my bookshelf. It is a quick reference showing the standard 

2 Ibid., page 176. 

3 Ibid., pages 94 & 95. 


liturgy with appropriate nusach." 4 Now, readers of the Journal can be glad to 
have it on their shelves as well! 

The book bears no ISBN number, and is not easily available. Instead, the 
author can be reached directly: Cantor Andrew Bernard, Temple Beth El, 
5101 Providence Road, Charlotte, NC 28226 (704) 366-1948, ext. 107, or 

Patrice Kaplan has served Temple Sholom in Broomall (a suburb of Philadelphia), PA, 
as cantor for over 20 years. She received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees inMusic 
from Temple University and her cantorial certification from the American Conference 
of Cantors. She has served on the executive boards of the Delaware Valley Cantors' 
Conference and the Women Cantors' Network. 


Abba's Faith — Emunat Abba: The Sacred Chant of 
Abba YosefWeisgal, transcribed and edited by 
Joseph A. Levine 

Reviewed by Sharon Bernstein 

The musical portion of Joseph A. Levine's comprehensive dissertation, Emu- 
nat Abba, is celebrating its twenty- fifth anniversary in a brand new re-release 
by the Cantors Assembly. While the unpublished Analysis and Biography 
portions of his doctoral study occupy another 500 pages, the 409 pages of 
transcribed chant that are the subject of this review include a tremendous 
array of hazzanic material for High Holy Days, Festivals, Sabbath, Weekday, 
and special occasions, a chunk of which can't be found elsewhere. Acquiring 
it should be the easiest decision of 2007. 

This book contains some of the most detailed, specific, and careful tran- 
scribing that I have seen. Singing through passages, following Joe's distinctive 
indications ("heroically", "yearningly"), sticking to the meticulous note values 
and rests, I felt the voice of another cantor, another rhythm and style, coming 
through me, giving these familiar words new meaning. 

There are, in my mind, two uses for a book of hazzanut: one is to find a 
"piece", a new Kedushah or Kol Nidre; something to add to your repertoire. 

4 Ibid., page 103. 

There's plenty of that in Emunat Abba - pull it out the next time you're in 
search of a new something. 

The other purpose is to learn, to find new possibilities within the nusah, 
to see how someone else does or did it. It is for this that I find Emunat Abba 
to be so rich: in its presentation of the cantor's art as a balance of fireworks, 
plain nusah, and congregational melody; in the nusah itself, particularly in 
the less elaborate settings, which have unexpected twists; and in the inclu- 
sion of texts and chanting which you rarely, if ever, find written out, such 
as Weisgal's cantillation for Yamim Noraim, Shabbat, and Esther, his Torah 
B'rakhot, Mahashavot B'hasidut, Z'mirot, She-Hu Noteh Shamayim follow- 
ing High Holy Day Musaf Aleinu, chunks of the Avodah service, Weekday 
Minhah, chanting for the Haggadah, portions of Neilah, and a nice alternative 
for Bohein Kol Eshtonot. It's also nice to see basic responsive chanting with 
the kahal included in places like Kabbalat Shabbat (L'khuN'ran'na) and Hallel 
(B'tseit Yisraeil & Min Hameitsar), and arendition oiHadlakat ner Hanukah 
that is completely different from the ubiquitous version. 

The nusah itself tends towards the simple, straightforward. Embellishments, 
where they occur (more in "big" pieces, almost non-existent in basic passages) 
fall neatly into the line, and can (if you're working in a no-embellishment 
zone) be easily cut. There are unusual patterns: extended passages on a single 
note and much use of chromaticism (chanting on a single note or repeating a 
motif, going up and down chromatically). His use of accidentals is flavourful, 
spicy, as in Uv'Yom Simhat'khem, the word "t'ruat" going from minor triad to 
major and back to minor, playing with the A-flat in Imru Leilohim, and the 
E-natural — instead of E-flat — passing downward from G to D on Sh'vikin of 
Kol Nidre, although that might be a common variation I'm not familiar with. 
Weekday Arvit is mostly in minor, with side trips into major and Ahavah 
Rabbah (on the same root as the minor), and with a hunky-dory use of the 
lower 7 th . There's a wonderful modality in Kabbalat Shabbat, using much of 
the scale below tonic, trumpeting C major arpeggios, much use of Ukrainian 
Dorian and the flatted 7 th , and, in F-major, sharping the F and going into D 
major, making the overall tone deeper, more mysterious. Some settings, such 
as Hamol al Ma'asekha, are deliciously simple and delicate. 

Perhaps least interesting to me in this book are the "bigger" pieces, such as 
Marom, Unetaneh Tokef, and M'hal La'avonoteinu. They sit quite high - too 
high for a woman in the pulpit, probably too high for most men as well, with 
too wide of a range to just transpose them down - and where the single note 
chanting and chromaticism felt exciting in the less embellished texts, in these 
sections I found it overly dramatic without enough melodic and harmonic 


variance to sustain. Joe Levine took a similar stance in the Foreword to Emunat 
Abba: "My experience [in restoring and transcribing my old mentor's habitual 
practice] confirmed what Jewish folk wisdom had known all along, that any 
oral tradition of music is preferable to its written counterpart. Abba Weisgal's 
performance was infinitely more alive and beautiful than his composed pieces, 
which seem stiff by comparison." 

It is this book's gift that everyone will find things that are useful and beau- 
tiful to them. My favorites, in addition to the pieces mentioned above, are 
the very beautifully shaped Hatsi Kaddish for High Holy Days, a lovely Shir 
Hama'alot melody before Birkat ha-Mazon, the chanting for Brit Milah, an 
Eishet Hayil and Adonai Ro'i for Levayah which are exquisite, the beautiful 
Mizmor Shir I'yom Hashabat based on a Roumanian folksong, the Doina- 
like opening to Adonai Malakh Gei'ut Laveish, Vay'khullu and Aleinu from 
Shabbat Arvit, the wonderful turn on "avoteinu" at the beginning of Shabbat 
Shaharit Ya'aleh V'yavo, the lovely hatimot to R'tseh and Hatov in Shabbat 
Musaf, Ein Keiloheinu sung to a Yugoslavian Folksong, Ana Adonai, and the 
very sweet and lovely beginning to Tal. 

A huge y'yasher koah and thank you to Joe for allowing us a glimpse into 
this world, particularly on behalf of those, like me, who didn't get to hear 
it first-hand. It is a tremendous work, and should continue to be a pillar of 
cantorial repertoire and study for decades to come. 

Sharon Bernstein has been working as a cantor since 1991. She graduated from 
the H.L. Miller Cantorial School atJTS in 2003, and has concurrently become an 
aficionado of Yiddish song, performing and teachingin Israel, Europe— particularly 
Vilna—and the U.S. She is currently taking a leave from full-time pulpit duties to 
devote time to her family and to sing in a Punk Rock band. 

Two DVDs: Great Cantors of the Golden Age, and 
Great Cantors in Cinema— & remastered edition with 
seven new selections — produced by the National Center for 
Jewish Film of Brandeis University 
Reviewed by Roslyn Barak 

This newly released DVD version of two documentaries is digitally re-mas- 
tered and greatly improved from the original videotaped production, which 

I've owned for some years now. The upgraded visual and audio quality is 
immediately apparent, although there are still rough spots, especially the 
sound quality of the various choirs that accompany the cantors. However, for 
aficionados of hazzanut this DVD set is a joy to hear and behold. 

The first DVD, Great Cantors of the Golden Age, boasts a narration by the 
incomparable Hazzan Max Wohlberg. His introduction to the film is distin- 
guished by its concise explanation of the history of the Golden Age of Haz- 
zanut, starting with the wave of Jewish immigration to the United States at the 
turn of the 20 th century, which brought the cream of Eastern Europe's cantors 
to these shores. Hazzan Wohlberg's knowledge of each cantor's background 
is admirable, and he recites their names and professional accomplishments 
as if he were a baseball fan reciting batting averages. He does this seemingly 
without notes, an impressive feat, but not unusual in the world of cantorholics, 
as anyone who has ever mingled with such a group can attest. 

What follows is footage of some of the past century's greatest cantors: 
Gershon Sirota, Mordechai Hershman, David Roitman, Josef Shlisky, Adolf 
Katchko, and perhaps the most renowned of all — Yossele Rosenblatt. Wohl- 
berg speaks lovingly of each of these great interpreters of the Jewish liturgy, 
and sets the stage for their performances. Indeed, these are performances, 
specifically intended for a film audience, rather than an experience of actual 
tefillah. Notwithstanding, the cantors manage to convey an impression of 
prayer that rings true, even though it is obvious that the staged atmosphere, 
rolling cameras, and adjustments to God's name as it appears in the liturgy 
stiffens their demeanor quite a bit. But this is a small price to pay for the 
privilege of hearing these legendary hazzanim, in the prime of their vocal 
form, regaling us with their soulful interpretations of great cantorial recita- 
tives, and leaving us a legacy of prayer as art which is fast disappearing in the 
world of synagogue music. 

From Gershon Sirota's powerful (indeed, almost overpowering) rendering 
oiHoshana, to Adolf Katchko's stentorian bass-baritone delivery oiM'lokh, to 
Josef Shlisky 's lyrical Uv'-Shofar Gadol, to the exquisite subtlety and sweetness 
of David Roitman's Av HaRahamim (which actually brought me to tears), to 
Mordechai Hershmaris Mimkomkha, gleaming with operatic tenor brilliance, 
and finally to the masterful and incomparable Yossele Rosenblatt's intense 
and exciting offering oiAdonai Z'kharanu, backed by Meyer Machtenberg's 
choir - where we hear and see Rosenblatt's superb musicality and artistic 
integrity - we are treated to the most sublime experience of cantorial art. 
The Meyerbeer-like composition that Rosenblatt presents affords him the 
opportunity to showcase his extraordinary coloratura and falsetto, but one 


is never aware of the performer's own ego in the mix. Rather, it is the music 
and holy text that drive this extraordinary man. An article in the New York 
Times, which appeared on September 22 of 2006, describes a jazz musician's 
reaction to a recording of Rosenblatt singing Tikanta Shabbat. 

I started crying like a baby. The record was crying, singing and praying, 
all in the same breath. I said, wait a minute. You can't find those notes. 
Those are not 'notes; They don't exist. . .1 think he's singing pure spirit. . .he's 
making the sound of what he's experiencing as a human being, turning it 
into the quality of his voice, and what he's singing to is what he's singing 
about... it doesn't sound like it's going up and down; it sounds like it's 
going out. Which means it's coming from his soul. 
This film preserves a remnant of that experience for all time. The art of the 
cantor remains alive so long as we have witness to that art, though the practice 
of that art may fade away. We must pity the generations that will never know 
the excitement and glory of true hazzanut. Max Wohlberg ruefully admits 
that those days are probably gone, yet he argues that it is important to know 
what once was, even if we are too close to a still emerging American style 
to be able to make it out. Perhaps we can hope for a future renaissance to 
occur. In the meantime, the film generously provides a remembrance as well 
as special features which shouldn't be missed: additional performances by 
Katchko, Roitman and Rosenblatt, that are equally superb. All in all, this is a 
worthy production and a gift to the Jewish world. 

The second DVD, Cantors in Cinema, is narrated by longtime radio and 
television commentator Martin Bookspan, and focuses on appearances by 
noted cantors in Hollywood cinematic productions, whether feature films or 
documentaries. Moishe Oysher's melodramatic performance in Overture to 
Glory (1940) reminds one of the role played by Al Jolson in The Jazz Singer 
(1927): the cantor who becomes a pop singer who then returns to the syna- 
gogue on (what else?) the eve of Yom Kippur, to chant Kol Nidre (and, in this 
case, replace poor Manfred Lewandowski mid-chant). This is a delightful 
opportunity to see Oysher at his entertaining and cantorial best, and there 
are more opportunities later on in the film, including the section known as 
Special Features. 

For sheer entertainment value, however, nothing tops Leibele Waldman's 
shenanigans in the 1931 movie short, Cantor on Trial, a takeoff on the familiar 
song Khazonim oif Probe by Sholom Secunda. Waldman's characterizations 
of three different cantorial candidates at an audition is priceless, and the au- 
ditioning committee is a hilarious bunch of Yiddish actors who are, pardon 
the expression, quite the "hams." 

But once again, Yossele Rosenblatt steals the film, and our hearts, with 
his renderings of cantorial recitatives and Yiddish songs in a documentary 
travelogue made to acquaint diaspora Jews with Palestine in June 1933. This 
is actually the final footage of Rosenblatt, for he passed away while making 
the documentary. The sight of crowds attending his funeral is terrifically mov- 
ing, and here we have it filmed for posterity. At that point one realizes the 
importance of this DVD as an historical document, a must for ohavei Yisrael 
everywhere. Rosenblatt is also presented later on in the Special Features sec- 
tion of the DVD, offering an emotional rendering of Yahrzeit Lied, a tragic 
Yiddish song which opens and closes with hazzanut. 

Moshe Koussevitsky's chanting oiEUMalei Rahamim in the film We Who 
Remain, a sobering documentary about the remnant of the Polish Jewish 
community just after the Holocaust, also appears on the DVD. Koussevitsky 
— the chief cantor of Warsaw before World War II — was invited back to 
sing for what was left of the community at a ceremony of remembrance. It is 
a painful clip to watch, and his soaring recitation of the Memorial Prayer is 
a wonder. Koussevitsky is brought back in Special Features as well, with an 
affecting rendition of V'li-Y'rushalayim Irkha. Josef Seiden's 1931 film The 
Voice of Israel features Mordechai Hershman singing Hayom Harat Olam, 
and again we are treated to his spectacular voice — a silver trumpet that 
could melt stone. 

This noteworthy project cannot fail to delight and fascinate fans of Jewish 
music and the Jewish people, historians, archivists, and anyone else who may 
have the privilege of viewing the DVDs. Kol ha-kavod to Producer/Cantor 
Murray Simon for his passionate pursuit of this restoration, and to Direc- 
tor Rich Pontius and Executive Producer Sharon Pucker Rivo. We are truly 
blessed by their efforts. 

Before entering the cantorate, Roslyn Barak enjoyed a career as concert recitalist and 
opera singer. She received her musical training at the Manhattan School of Music, and 
her cantorial investiture at the Hebrew Union College in New York. She has been the 
cantor of Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco since 1987, chairs the American 
Conference of Cantors' Publications committee, and serves on the Central Conference 
of American Rabbis' Prayer Book Editorial committee. Recently, she toured Germany 
in conjunction with the release of her CD, The Jewish Soul. 


Hans Cohn's Risen from the Ashes: 
Tales of a Musical Messenger 
(Hamilton Press, 2005). 
Reviewed by Deborah J. Togut 

An only child, Hans Cohn escaped Berlin with his parents at the age of twelve 
shortly after Kristallnacht in March 1939. His family immigrated to Shanghai, 
because China was the only country, other than Trinidad, that would accept 
Jews at the time. In Shanghai, Hans experienced corruption, poverty, disease 
and death. His parents had barely enough money to open a restaurant, and 
worked tirelessly just to stay alive. His mother's untimely death left Hans and 
his father devastated but not destroyed. The two worked ten hours a day, 
seven days a week to support themselves by keeping the restaurant going. 
The culinary skills that Hans developed out of sheer necessity in Shanghai 
would continue to serve him well throughout his life and provide him with 
an unfailing source of income, come what may. During his year of mourning, 
Hans went to the local synagogue to recite Kaddish and also to listen closely 
to the cantor. A gifted vocalist himself, Hans would listen just as intently to 
many other cantors before he began serving as a ba'al tefillah and eventually 
as a hazzan. 

After the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 the Jews' situ- 
ation in the ghetto of Shanghai deteriorated so much that Hans decided to 
stow away on a boat bound for Australia. Lacking proper documentation, 
he feared that his father would forbid him from trying to embark illegally, so 
he left without saying goodbye. He was eventually caught as the result of a 
discrepancy in headcount on the boat and about to be bound over for return 
to Shanghai on the return voyage. Luckily, kindness on the part of a stranger 
— plus his own Chutzpah — enabled him to escape jail time, and the kindness 
of locals in Melbourne made him feel at home far away from home. Fear of 
being caught led Hans to change his name temporarily and eventually move 
to Sydney. A year later, an uncle in California agreed to sponsor him, leading 
Hans to emigrate once more and start anew in the United States. 

Indeed, his life improved from then on. His uncle's sponsorship had 
opened the door to a much better life filled with opportunity, but Hans had 
not graduated from high school. Relying on his skills as a cook, he sought 
out positions in restaurants. Unfortunately, America was not interested in 
European cuisine, but in fast food. So Hans did what he had to do and became 

a short-order cook. He also began studying voice and attending services at a 
Conservative synagogue in Burbank. 

In 1948, Hans was drafted into the US Army and served in Fort Ord 
where he met Eva Rhee, the woman who would become his wife. She was of 
a privileged German-Jewish background and a teacher of English and Span- 
ish. Their courtship survived Hans' transfer to Fort Bragg, North Carolina 
and they married upon the completion of his military duty. 

Through all these peregrinations Hans was deepening his knowledge 
of Jewish music and his appreciation of Jewish traditions. He determined to 
study Judaism and develop his skills to their fullest. An opportunity to ac- 
complish both goals presented itself with Hans' acceptance into the cantorial 
school of Hebrew Union College in New York City — the School of Sacred 
Music. While studying there he worked at many jobs to support himself and 
his growing family. By the time he graduated in 1962, he and Eva had three 
daughters and Hans had fulfilled a life-long dream. He accepted a position as 
the Cantor and Religious School Principal at Temple Beth El in South Bend, 
IN. Hans earned a Master's in Guidance and Counseling at Notre Dame Uni- 
versity before moving on to Temple Beth Jacob, a Conservative synagogue in 
Redwood City, CA. 

Life back in California continued to bring Hans and Eva much joy both 
from their family and their work. Yet, he was painfully reminded of what had 
happened in Berlin during his childhood, when an arsonist set fire to their 
synagogue and destroyed it almost completely. Years later, a surprise diagnosis 
of throat cancer caused Hans to retire early from his position at Temple Beth 
Jacob and modify his lifestyle. Despite this setback, he continued to maintain 
an office and serve the congregation in every way he could, visiting the sick 
and leading Shiva minyanim, among other things. Shortly after their fiftieth 
wedding anniversary, his beloved Eva was stricken with a brain tumor and 
passed away. Of all of the losses Hans experienced, Eva's death was his great- 
est. A survivor and optimist by nature, however, Hans continues to make the 
most of his life by enjoying each day to its fullest, by exercising regularly and 
exploring his interests. He harbors no resentment against God or man, serv- 
ing his community with grace and compassion. Spurred by encouragement 
from his three daughters and six grandchildren, he set his life's experiences 
down on paper and published them in a slender book that has got to be one 
of the most hope-filled narratives I've ever read. 

Although I am a third-generation American and felt only remotely affected 
by the Holocaust, I was fascinated by how certain parts of Hans Cohn's life 

paralleled my own. After living in Japan for several years as a child, I always 
wanted to reconnect with the Japanese and learn the language and history 
formally. So I majored in Asian Studies at Cornell University and spent six 
years after college working for a Japanese company, traveling back and forth 
to Japan. I enjoyed straddling the two worlds — my Jewish community and my 
Japanese colleagues. Along the way, I decided to turn my love for Torah and 
Judaism into a vocation. I gave up my intercontinental commuting and even- 
tually enrolled in the Cantors Institute of the Jewish Theological Seminary. In 
comparison to Hans' life, however, my story has been a privileged one. 

Hans Cohn has led a life like no other. Even more remarkable is his ap- 
parent awareness of all that happened to him as it was happening and his 
determination to remain hopeful and optimistic and never to despair, a living 
proof that Rav Nahman of Bratslav's dictum — ve-ha'ikar: lo le-faheid k'lal 
("but the main thing is: not to be afraid") — really works. Hans' writing is 
straightforward, his actions resourceful and persevering, his commitment to 
survival unwavering and his love for his culinary and cantorial crafts, pas- 
sionate and inventive. He is a credit to both professions. 

Hazzan Deborah J. Togut serves as Ritual Director of B'nai Israel Congregation 
in Rockville, MD. 


Two CDs of Choral Performances: 

The London Jewish Male Choir's 80 Years (ARC Music, 

Sholom Kalib's Jewish Music Heritage Project 
Inaugural Season CD 
(pre-publication edition) 
Reviewed by Josee Wolff 

At first glance these two CDs are as different as one can imagine. 80 Years 
London Jewish Male Choir celebrates eight decades of this well-established 
choir, highlighting their choral tradition with historical and recent selected 
recordings. The choir was founded in 1926 and many of its members were 

singers in the various London Synagogue choirs of that time. Today's London 
Jewish Male Choir still includes some of London's top cantors. The record- 
ings are of professional quality, as is the singing; the liner notes include back- 
ground information about the choir and the compositions in four languages. 
Soloists on this recording include star cantors David Kusevitsky and Naftali 

The Jewish Music Heritage Project Inaugural Season CD was recorded 
during two live performances of the JMHP Boy's and Men's Choir, a newly 
formed ensemble created specially for the purpose of these archival record- 
ings. As Ruth Kalib Eisenberg explains, "My dad started the volunteer choir 
with boys who had no singing experience. They began in November 2005 and 
were recorded at two concerts that took place just a few short months later 
— in March and June 2006. . .To say the least, the challenges were formidable." 
This is unfortunately obvious when one listens to the recording. The perfor- 
mance is clearly not at a professional level; the singing has many challenges, 
pitch and phrasing being among the most troubling ones (in spite of the piano 
doubling the parts throughout). This CD has not yet been published, and the 
draft of the liner notes lacks some crucial information, such as the names of 
cantors, soloists and accompanist in the various pieces. 

What do these two recordings have in common? As far as I am concerned, 
the obvious connection is a passionate love for the repertoire of the male 
synagogue choir. Both recordings pay homage to a rich tradition; each in their 
own way tries to find avenues not only to conserve this heritage but also to 
keep it alive. And this is what makes Sholom Kalib's project especially touch- 
ing. It is clear that he cares deeply about the musical tradition of the Eastern 
European synagogue. In his introductory words on the JMHP prospectus he 
writes, "Eastern European synagogue music is the quintessential spiritual 
and artistic embodiment of centuries of Jewish life and history. This vast 
treasury — Judaism's own classical music — constitutes the musical heritage 
of the overwhelming majority of the world's Jews. Tragically, this rich and 
multifaceted heritage is in danger of being lost forever." While we can argue 
the validity of the first part of this statement (which ignores the vast musical 
heritage of the rest of K'lal Yisrael), we can't argue the fact that this Eastern 
European heritage is indeed in danger of being lost. 

The sampler CD is part of Kalib's "unprecedented historic effort to com- 
prehensively document and record for posterity the great treasury of East- 
ern European synagogue music." It is the first one in a series that ultimately 
will consist of up to seventy-five CDs. On it we hear some of Kalib's own 
compositions and arrangements as well as compositions by well-known 


composers like Lewandowski, Dunajewski, and Alman and by lesser-known 
composers such as Salman and Giblichman. It appears that Kalib made his 
choices in part based on personal connections with the many cantors and 
choral conductors who were his mentors and inspiration. The repertoire is of 
varied quality; some, like Lewandowski's Zokharti Lokh ( V'al Y'deiAvadekha), 
belong to the masterpieces of our Ashkenazi tradition — East or West. Others 
are at best, Gebrauchsmusik, intended for use during a service rather than in 
concert setting. Unfortunately, neither category of selections is enhanced by 
its performance on this pre-publication CD. 

While I admire Kalib's intentions and his passion for this enormous under- 
taking, I do hope that future recordings will be of a higher vocal and musical 
quality than this one. There are some sweet moments on the disc: the boy 
soprano at the beginning of Salman's Mogen Ovos, and hearing melodies of the 
Musaf Kedushah (Joshua Lind and Dovid Moshe Steinberg) which are sung 
weekly in my own synagogue. This repertoire has not yet been lost entirely! 
80 Years London Jewish Male Choir covers a broad spectrum of musical 
styles, representing the wide variety of repertoire that the choir has performed 
over the years. The opening selections were recorded in 2005 and highlight the 
current choir with an eclectic mixture ranging from Samuel Alman's Sefirat 
Ha-Omer to an arrangement oiHava Nagila. On the next two tracks we hear 
renditions oiAzMoshiakh Vet Kumen and Der Rebbe Elimelekh, recorded in 
1928. That same year London hosted an international competition for syna- 
gogue choirs, organized by the Jewish Chronicle. I would imagine that this 
choir participated (although as someone who grew up in the Netherlands I 
can't help but kvell that it was the Choir of the Great Synagogue in Amsterdam 
that won first prize!). It is clear that this was an era when synagogue choirs and 
their repertoire were highly respected and appreciated. And it is poignant to 
hear those pre-war recordings and realize that London may in fact be one of 
the rare places in Europe where the community was not decimated and the 
choral tradition was able to continue. 

On this CD we can hear some wonderful examples of the rich sound of a 
male synagogue choir, especially in liturgical selections like Alman's Sefirat 
Ha-Omer and Brun's U-mipnei Hata-einu. Uniquely British is an arrange- 
ment of Hatikvah, commissioned for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, 
and performed in 1952 with the Central Band of the Royal Air Force. The 
tracks on this disc vacillate between the somewhat banal (Hava Nagila, 
Fisher's arrangement of Oseh Shalom by Nurit Hirsh) and classics that have 
withstood the test of time (Lewandowski's Shuvi Nafshi and Schubert's Tov 

L'-Hodot, Psalm 93). Among the highlights are the Zilberts Havdalah with 
Hazzan David Kusevitzky (unfortunately this is one of the tracks where there 
is no composer listed in the liner notes), and Alman's Shomeir Yisrael with 
Hazzan Naftali Herstik. 

Josee Wolff is director of student placement at the School of Sacred Music, Hebrew 
Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and interim cantor of Temple Shaaray 
Tefila in New York. A native of the Netherlands, she was the first woman from the 
European continent to graduate from the School of Sacred Music atHUC-JIR and 
be invested as a cantor. 


Without Instruments! 

Subject: Friday Night Alive - 

February 28, 2007 

Dear Joe, 
In the Fall 2005 issue of the Journal (p. 217), Mark Biddelman makes reference 
to a Pakistani melody for "Hallelu" as a service opener that can be repeated 
effectively three or four times unaccompanied. This melody is actually a varia- 
tion on the song "Allah Huu!" by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, lyrics by Mohammad 
Iqbal Naqibi. The song is a qawwali — a devotional song of the Sufis. 

Example l.Alla Hu by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan 

One will note upon listening to this qawwali that the modality is not in 
minor, but rather a major scale with a lowered 7th, although it is truly difficult 
to determine a true modality since the song limits itself to a pentatonic scale 
and adds the lowered 7th. 

Erik Contzius 

New Rochelle, NY 


Subject: An Overview of Music Therapy 

September 8, 2006 

Dear Ava Lee Millman Fisher, 
I opened my copy of JSM this morning and am thrilled with your article about 
using music therapy and pedagogy to empower adolescents with special needs 
to succeed at Bar/Bat Mitzvah celebrations! I'm the starry-eyed person who 
advocated for this topic to be the focus of a JSM volume, but did not have 
the time to work on it myself. Your article is simply superb — full of practical 
information, beautifully written and inspiring all at once — and is just the 
sort of approach I was hoping for, and more. 

Lilly Kaufman 

Bloomfield, CT 



Subject: First European Cantors Convention 

August 21, 2006 

Cantorial conventions are a regular feature of Jewish musical life in the USA . 
But for Europe, Jewish Music Institute staged the first, over three days in June 
at London's Central Synagogue on Great Portland Street. Thirty-two cantors 
came from all over the UK and from Austria, Canada, Czech Republic, Den- 
mark, Germany, Italy, South Africa and the US. Among these were several of 
world class: Shmuel Barzilai from Vienna; Yossi Malovany from New York; 
Alberto Mizrahi from Chicago; Arie Subar from Montreal; and our own 
Moshe Haschel from St John's Wood synagogue. The inspiration and plan- 
ning of the convention came from Stephen Glass, Director of JMI's Cantorial 
Section, who presided and guided with his lively presence and enthusiasm, 
and from Geraldine Auerbach, Director of the JMI, who organized it. The 
whole convention was efficiently steered and managed by Hirsh Cashdan, 
JMI's Special Projects Officer. 

The events, a series of presentations followed by animated discussions, 
covered such topics as a reconsideration of the role of the cantor in today's 
conditions, the art and skill but also the values and principles that should 
inform hazzanut, new compositions and giving new life to old ones, master 
classes on davening and nusah in which everyone was given an opportunity 
to sing and given an assessment and guidance on their performance, hal- 
akhic issues relating to the conduct of services, co-working with choir or 
congregation as participants, meeting the challenge of the Carlebach type 
of service, and reflections on the future of the cantorate. A particularly valu- 
able presentation came from Mr. Elliot Benjamin, ENT surgeon at Charing 
Cross Hospital, whose expertise in the mechanism of the voice was greatly 

A variety of points made in the course of the discussions focus on the 
problems facing those who want to preserve and continue the age-old tradi- 
tion of the cantor. These all seem to arise from one ultimate cause: the lack 
of appreciation by many congregants (and, let it be said, by many rabbis and 
yeshivot also) of the music of our prayer. From this stems the lack of training 
in the tradition, of good new music and of employment opportunities. 

Cantors' conventions bring together those with the desire to learn and to 
teach our precious musical heritage. We hope that all who attended will feel 
reinvigorated in their will to continue it. 

Victor Tunkel 



Subject: Second Latin American Cantors Convention 

November 12, 2006 

The 2nd Latin-American Convention of Hazzanim, sponsored by the Latin- 
American Rabbinical Seminary Marshall T. Meyer, was held in Buenos Aires 
on July 16th and 17th, 2006. Fifty hazzanim attended, including students and 
graduates of the Cantorial School Beit Asaf within the Rabbinical Seminary, 
plus established hazzanim from Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico 
and the U.S. 

At this second convention we decided to create a professional organization 
of Latin American hazzanim which would oversee preservation of the nusah 
and enable us to be true envoys of the kahal before God. All of us have the 
academic accreditation to disseminate Jewish liturgical music as a founda- 
tion of our religion according to Halakhah and Jewish tradition going back 
many centuries. 

As experts in the meaning, importance and order of the prayers we look 
upon ourselves as caretakers of that precious tradition. As professionally 
recognized hazzanim we see ourselves as authorities on Jewish music for our 
communities, as exemplars of Yahadut for our adult congregants and as role 
models in living according to the Torah for the youth of our synagogues. 

Our aim is to create an association of peers that represents our interests 
and provides a place for exchanging ideas that would further our goals as 
sh'lihei tsibbur in the countries of Central and South America. We also want 
to reclaim the lost respect that our profession once enjoyed in this part of 
the world and continues to enjoy elsewhere. 

Accordingly, we reached the conclusion that only graduates of the Beit 
Asaf School or possessors of the same qualifications — to be determined by 
examination or by virtue of a diploma from a recognized cantorial school 
— would be accepted as members. As part of the Latin-American Conserva- 
tive movement known as Amlat (Latin Masorti), we've decided to call our 
cantorial organization Cantorlat. 

Ariel Foigel 



Subject: Women's League's Outlook 

January 12, 2006 

Dear Editor, 
I am heartened by the fact that many in the United Synagogue are including 
"cantor" in their comments about clergy. Unfortunately, the same cannot 
be said about a recent issue of Women's League Outlook, the magazine for 
women of the Conservative movement. There are several articles, under the 
heading of "A Movement Transformed," that include interviews with women 
rabbis. According to what we read in these articles, none of the women "who 
changed the movement" have been cantors. All of us involved in synagogue 
life know this to be a completely false implication. 

Sadly, even a woman rabbi— Judith Hauptman— who has published 
groundbreaking scholarly articles, was not mentioned in any of the articles. 
The women rabbis actually highlighted were "everyday" practitioners. They 
held positions in pulpits, Jewish community centers, schools and agencies. 
They were considered to be groundbreakers simply by virtue of their gender 
and their presence. It is in this group, I claim, that women cantors should be 

One congregant at a time, one student at a time, it seems that women can- 
tors must challenge the stereotypes and overcome the barriers of prejudice 
and ignorance. It greatly saddens me that Women's League, which I respect 
so much, has chosen not to include women cantors in their list of people 
who have transformed the Conservative movement. I can only hope that 
any discussion inspired by this letter will help to enlighten members of our 
movement who are in a position to change that. 

Marcey Wagner 

Brookville, New York 

Subject: Minhah L'-Shabbat 

August 23, 2006 

Dear Editor, 
I received my Fall 2006 JSM this week, and found it replete with interesting 
articles that will naturally take time to read and absorb. The one on Minhah 
L'-Shabbat, however, caught my eye. 

Geoffrey Goldberg wrote in the Journal of 2005 that before the First World 
War the Great Synagogue of Munich, which was Liberal, held a special Min- 
hah service for the many children who attended school on Shabbat. Cantor 
Emanuel Kirschner who officiated, had composed an organ accompaniment 
based on the nusah to all the congregational responses — and the children 
were the "choir." 

Cantor David Kusevitsky once told me that in London's Hendon Synagogue 
during the Second World War he would always officiate at Shabbat Minhah 
services with a choir. Cantor Shlomo Mandel related something similar. As a 
candidate for the position of Cantor at the Great Synagogue in Amsterdam, 
he too was required to audition at the Shabbat Minhah service with a choir. 

The first time I visited in Brussels over Shabbat a generation later, I recall 
that a youngster was sent up to lead the davening at Minhah; this was evidently 
their standing custom. I understand that in the U.S. today, boys and girls are 
trained to lead that service at their Bar and Bat Mitzvah celebrations. 

Akiva Zimmermann 



Subject: Jewish Views of Disability 

March 27, 2007 

Dear Joe, 

On behalf of the University of Pennsylvania Libraries and the Freedman 
Sound Archive, we are delighted to acknowledge your introducing the 
University's Judaica Collections to the Fall 2005 and Fall 2006 issues of the 
Journal of Synagogue Music. 

The articles in the Fall 2006 issue dealing with Music in Therapy and 
Pedagogy are very special, especially Scott Sokol's piece on Jewish Views of 
Disability. Please convey our thanks to the authors of those articles and to 
Dr. Sokol. 

Robert and Molly Freedman 


Timeless Recitatives for All Voices and Many Texts 
I. Ki Zokheir Kol HaNishkahot 

After 'Ovadiah ha-Geir, ca. 1130, Mi Al Har Horeiv Plus Ashkenazic , S'lihot Nusah 
Very Broadly, Let Words Dictate Rhythm 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

Kadosh Atah 
Sim Shalom 

HaYom Harat Olam 

S'lah Na....salahti ki-d'varekha 

My dear scholarly friend, "Ovadiah, the Norman Proselyte: 

I received your inquiry asking whether you, as a convert to Judaism, are entitled to say 
in your daily prayers, "Our God and God of our Fathers." I say to you: Indeed, you may 
say all of these blessings without changing the wording. You are just like any native 
born Jew in this regard.. .Once you entered our ranks and joined the Jewish Religion, 
there was absolutely no distinction between us and you in anything... 

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon 

II. M'heirah YiShama 

After Salamone Rossi, Le-Mi Ehpots ("To Whom Should I give Honor?") 
HaShirim Asher LiShlomo, 1623 

Andante Ft 

C Fm o E b A b D^ G 1, 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 


Shoshanat Ya'akov 

Barukh Haba/B'rukhim HaBa'ii 

III. Ending of Barukh She-Amar 

After Idelsohn, Thesaurus VIII: 68, # 231, "Tunes Ascribed to 17th Century" 
Freely, but balance each pair of hemistichs 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

HaN'shamah Lach ... Dark'kha ... L'ma'ankha ... Ta'aleh Arukhah 
Eil Melekh Yosheiv UVkhein Tein Pahd'kha 

Z'khor B'rit Avraham Hatsi Kaddish 


(French and German Rite: S'lihot for Kol Nidre Night) 

Samuel David, Po'alHayyeiAdam, 1895: #183 

Solemnly — Balancing Each Pair of Hemistichs 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

Mi Yidmeh Lakh (Cong, joins at Ka'Amur L'-David) 
V'-Ya'azor (Cong, joins at V'-Atem ha-d'veikim) 
Uv'-nuho (Cong, joins at Ki Lekah Tov) 


Abba Weisgal (1885-1981), in Joseph A. Levine, Emunat Abba,198h #183 

. Rapidly recited 

Ba-rakh a - tah, 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

Birkhot HaShahar 

G'vurot / K'dushah / Hazarah 

Ashrei / U-Va L'-Tziyon / Shir Shel Yom 

Ha Lahma Anya / Masai Siddur Pesah 

Kaddish / Hatsi Kaddish 

Bezalel Odesser 

(1790 - 1861) 

Transcribed by Max Wohlberg 

JTSca. 1955 

VI. Adonai Malakh 

(Eastern European version of the Friday Night mode 

n which Jacob Koussevitzky based his more elaborate 

i, notated in Ketone/ Yosef, 2000: 99-100, JTS, 

H.L. Miller School) 


Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

Ahavat Olam 
Raheim Na 

EsaEinai(Ps. 121) 

VII. Mi-M'kom'kha 

Solomon Sulzer, SchirZion, Joseph Sulzer, Ed.,1905: #82 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

L'-Dor VaDor Eishet Hayil (Prov. 31; LVayah) 

Adonai, Mi YaGur (Ps. 15) L'-David Mizmor (Ps. 24; LVayah) 

I .' Shabbat Mizmor L'-David (Ps. 23; LVayah) 

VIII. Kiddush L'-Shabbat 

Rabbi Isaac of Vorke, in Chemjo Vinaver, Anthology of Jewish Music,1955: 22 

Ba rukh A-tah,A-do-nai,E-lo-hei-nuMe-lekhha-o- lam, a-sher_ki-d' sha- 

rukh_ A - tah, 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

Avadim Hayinu (Haggadah recitation) 

Shalom Aleikhem & Vay'khullu (before Kiddush) 

Nodeh L'kha... Ve'Al Ha-Kol... Ha-Eil Avinu (Birkat HaMazon) 

After a Ladino Folk Song 
"Yo Me Nomori del Aire" 

With Middle-Eastern Im 


(Psalm 29) 

Otsar Musikali Shel 

Adat Ha-Sefardim, 

Yaakov Mazor & Moshe 

Atias, Editors, 1975: 274 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

Ya'aleh Tahanuneinu Ana Avda ... tav'van u-keshot 

Yih'yu L'-Ratson Imrei Fi 

X. Melekh Rahaman 

Joseph A. Levine, Synagogue Song in America, 2001: 161f 

Vy E - lo-heinu veilohei avoteinu, melekh ra- ha- n 

V'-loyeira'eh et p'nei Adonai rei- kam 

(Stud} Mode) , (Magein A' 

-Thinnah) ^ i^~~m^ I =» (Adonai Malakh) 

« ffe rUF^ mr'rJr - j^r uj j 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

B'rit Milah / Simhat Bat: B'rakhot, Eloheinu 

Mi She-beirakh: Oleh, Bar/Bat Mitzvah, Holeh, Hatan, Anniversary 

Eirusin / Sheva B'rakhot 


Zavel Kwartin, Semiroth Zebulon, 1928: 65 

Sustained Recitation 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

Mikhtam L'-David (Psalm 16) Ma Ashiv L'- Adonai (Psalm 1 16) 

Tsitsit Paragraph (Numbers 15) M'lokh / Atah Zokheir / T'-ka 

Bi'Y'mei Matityahu / Mordekhai V'-Khakh Hayah Omeir 

XII. Vay'khullu 

After David Kusevitsky, in Joseph A. Levine, ed., Ba'avur Dovid, 1992: 1-5 

Freely Chanted 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

Raheim Na (Birkhat HaMazon) Birkhat Kohanim 

BiY'shivah Shel Ma'alah Hoshanah L'ma'ankha, Eloheinu 

Adonai Ro'i (Psalm 23) 


After Josef Rosenblatt, "Shomeir Yisra'eil" Greater Recording Co. 
Cassette GRC 144, 1973: A-3 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

Shomeir Yisra'eil 
Tikanta Shabbat 

Tsur Yisra'eil 
Atah Yatsarta 

XIV. V'-Khol Mi She-Oskim 

After Pierre Pinchik, "Rozo D'-Shabbos," The Repertoire ofHazzan Pinchik, 1964: 78 


Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

(Geshem:) Ba'avuro ... Z'khor Sh'neim-asar 

(Pesah:) B'rah Dodi 

(Hashkivenu:) V'-Hagein Ba'adeinu 

(S'firah:) Hin'ni Mukhan 


XV. Ya'aleh V'-Yavo for All Occasions 

After Pinchos Jassinowsky , The Prophecy of Isaiah, 1925 

Andante with Flexible Rhythi 



B ^,-* 

u -, r 

|_Jj^ J 



^ . 

Alia Marci 


" -— ' 









^y J 

All Occasions (Rosh Hodesh, etc.) 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

Atah Ehad 

Ama Rabi El'azar 
Uv'-Shofar Gadol 

XVI. Alah Elohim BiT'ru'ah 

(Cantor, then Cong., verse by Verse) 

Beny Maissner, 1978 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

Hoshana — L'ma'an Amitakh Hoshana — Even Sh'tiyah 

Hoshana — Om Ani Homah Atah Hivdalta 


After O. Camhy, Liturgie Sephardie, 1959: 72; and N. Castel, Ladino Songbook, 1981: 11 

LAM U- L'- A - L'-MEI A - L' - MA - YA YIT 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

L'-Eil Oreikh Din 
Eil Melekh B'-Olamo 
N'-Kadeish .... Az B'kol 

Eil Dar BaMarom 
Ve'al Hata'im 

XVIII. R'tsei ViM'nuhateinu 

Eliezer Gerovitch, Shirej Simroh, 1904: pt. 1, no. 25 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

V'-sham'ru Uv'Khitvei HaKodesh Ne'e; 

Tsidkat'kha Tsedek Hineh Eil Y'shu'ati 

Aheinu Kol Beit Yisra'el Eil Malei Rahamim 

XIX. Ki Hindi KaHomer 

L. Glantz, in G. Ephros, ed., Vol II., Cantonal Anthology, 1940: 8 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

Yir'u Eineinu Shomeir Yisrael (all three verses) 

Hasof Zero'a Kodshekha (final verse of Maoz Tsur) 
Tsur Yisrael 

XX. Responsive Ashrei 

After Moshe Ganchoff (1963) 
Kallir's K'rovah for Musaf YK: 
Esa Dei'i L'mei-Rahok 

u > ^as k i ' 3 I =- =- > Congregation: 

VA'A-NAH- NU... 

Other texts that may be sung to this chant pattern: 

V'-Khol Ma'aminim Hodu HaGadol 

Ki Anu Amekha An'im Z'mirot 

Esa Dei'i L'mei-Rahok 

A new website has been established in tribute to: 


The Man and His Music 

"Sidor Belarsky was the singer who taught American Jews to understand 
the unique Yiddishkeit of the songs of the Jews of Eastern Europe. On 
the concert and opera stage he was elegant and moving, a performer 
of unquestioned musicianship and authority." 

Cantor Samuel Rosenbaum, Executive Vice- 
President, the Cantors Assembly, 1959-97 

"One is struck by the artistry and the natural, almost disarming ex- 
pression of his interpretations. He used his lyric bass, seamless in 
all registers, in the service of the text as well as the music. ..with no 
contrived mannerisms, only a seemingly endless flow of melody with 
flawless diction." 

Dr. Morton Gold, Music Critic, 
^ The National Jewish Post and Opinion f 



The Music of the Hebrew Bihfe 

and the Western Ashkenazic Chant Tradition 

hy Victor Tun He f 

PO Box 16031 
London NW3 6WL, UK 

Tunkel's exploration of Western Ashkenazic cantillation fills a significantgap within the wider 
Jewish music literature. It provides the only reliable notation of this tradition and reasserts 
its continued presence alongside the system widely used in both the USA and Israel, upon 
which previous studies have focused. 

Journal of Jewish Studies 

Tunkel's book is a masterly summary of the subject, presenting all significant interpretations 
of the system's technical and musical aspects. ..Here we find a persuasive charm: 
experience, knowledge and insight offered with a good humor which fills the reader with a 
sense of beauty, order, and even awe. 

David Robinson, Consultant to the Bible Society 

' 263 


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Readers, both lay and professional, will be grateful to the Schechter 
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Rabbi Jules Harlow, editor of the Mahzor for Rosh Hashanah and 
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